Protective Effects of Vitamins C and E on the Number of Micronuclei in Lymphocytes in Smokers and Their Role in Ascorbate Free Radical Formation in Plasma

Free Radic Res. 2001 Mar;34(3):209-19. doi: 10.1080/10715760100300201.


Cigarette smoke is widely believed to increase free radical concentrations causing subsequent oxidative processes that lead to DNA damage and hence, to several diseases including lung cancer and atherosclerosis. Vitamin C is a reducing agent that can terminate free-radical-driven oxidation by being converted to a resonance-stabilized free radical. To investigate whether short-term supplementation with the antioxidants vitamin C and E decreases free-radical-driven oxidation and thus decreases DNA damage in smokers, we determined the frequency of micronuclei in lymphocytes in 24 subjects and monitored the electron paramagnetic resonance signal of ascorbate free radical formation in plasma. Further parameters comprised sister-chromatid exchanges and thiobarbituric acid-reactive substances. Twelve smokers and twelve non-smokers took 1000 mg ascorbic acid daily for 7 days and then 1000 mg ascorbic acid and 335.5 mg RRR-alpha-tocopherol daily for the next 7 days. Baseline concentrations of both vitamins C and E were lower and baseline numbers of micronuclei were higher (p < 0.0001) in smokers than in non-smokers. After 7 days of vitamins C and E, DNA damage as monitored by the number of micronulei was decreased in both, smokers and non-smokers, but it was more decreased in smokers as indicated by fewer micronuclei in peripheral lymphocytes (p < 0.05). Concomitantly, the plasma concentrations of vitamin C (p < 0.001) as well as the ascorbate free radical (p < 0.05) were increased. The corresponding values in non-smokers, however, did not change. Our findings show that increased ascorbate free radical formation in plasma after short-term supplementation with vitamins C and E can decrease the number of micronuclei in blood lymphocytes and thus DNA damage in smokers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ascorbic Acid / blood
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Electron Spin Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Female
  • Free Radicals / blood*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Micronucleus Tests
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sister Chromatid Exchange
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin E / blood
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology*


  • Free Radicals
  • Vitamin E
  • Ascorbic Acid