Pregnant women who smoke should drink tomato juice regularly as it may assist in countering the damaging effects nicotine from cigarettes has on the developing foetus.
A study recently published by University of the Western Cape (UWC) Professor Gert Maritz states that experiments on rats determined that nicotine-induced structural changes within the lungs of baby rats were prevented by “supplementing the mother’s diet with tomato juice”.
He proposes that the same could be applied to humans, where regular drinking of tomato juice could assist in protecting the health of the unborn child of a mother who smokes.
“A daily intake of about one and half glass of tomato juice will supply enough lycopene and other phytonutrients and antioxidants to protect the foetus and neonate in a 60 kg human female against nicotine,” said Maritz.
Maritz said rapid cell proliferation occurs during the early phases of lung development and it is during this phase that the cells are most vulnerable to environmental changes, of which smoking is a great contributor.
“Smoking greatly contributes to the changes in the environment, including the in utero environment within which the foetus develops. These changes may affect cell and organ development which may have an impact on the health of the individual in the long term,” he said.
In his paper, he notes that virgin rats were mated and then divided into three groups. Group one received nicotine, group two received tomato juice, while group three received both nicotine and tomato juice. Maritz evaluated various changes such as emphysema, increase in lung volume and thickening of the alveolar walls within the lungs of the baby rats and found these structural changes were prevented when the female rats in group three were given tomato juice during gestation and lactation.
He noted evidence that lung changes in the baby rats that were exposed to nicotine only were indicative of premature lung aging.
Maritz has published several articles on the adverse health effects of nicotine. In an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health this year, Maritz and Richard Harding of Monash University in Australia, detailed how nicotine adversely affects various organs within the foetus, particularly the lungs, with long term consequences.
This means that contrary to popular belief that smoking is damaging while nicotine itself is relatively harmless, nicotine on its own is detrimental to the developing foetus. While women may use NRT such as nicotine gum or patches in an attempt to prevent smoking withdrawal symptoms, this would still affect the unborn baby’s health.
Maritz and Harding concluded that based on the considerable evidence of the dangers of nicotine exposure, it would be inappropriate to prescribe NRT to pregnant women.
“Recent studies have shown that nicotine can permanently affect the developing lung such that its final structure and function are adversely affected, these changes can increase the risk of respiratory illness and accelerate the decline in lung function with age,” stated the researchers.
“That is why nicotine cannot be used as a strategy to stop smoking,” they said.
NRT includes nicotine gum and patches, the most popular brand being Nicorettes. Twisp, an electronic cigarette that does not burn tobacco but contains nicotine, is the latest addition on the market.
Although the adverse effects of nicotine on foetal development are well established, doctors are still known to prescribe NRT to pregnant women trying to quit smoking.
Dr John Straughan, medical advisor to Johnson and Johnson in Cape Town (the Nicorette manufacturing company forms part of the Johnson and Johnson group) agreed medical doctors in South Africa are known to prescribe NRT to pregnant women when “they feel that the risk-benefit ratio is greatly in favour of the NRT versus continued smoking”.
But Straughan emphasized that the company advised against the use of Nicorette during pregnancy and lactation.
“As far as the company is concerned, our NRT variants are contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation and of course we abide by this regulation,” he said. This information also appears in the Nicorette package insert.
Straughan added that the South African Medicines Control authority was also firmly against the use of NRT during pregnancy. “In this country, the attitude is very cautious,” he said.
Although non nicotine containing drugs, Buproprion and Varenicline have been prescribed as alternatives to NRT for pregnant women, there have been no investigations on the effects of these on the foetus, said Maritz. – Fadela Slamdien