Multivitamin use linked to reduced cancer risk

Research linking multivitamin use to reduced cancer risks received extensive coverage, particularly online. The large study of multivitamins found that they may slightly lower a healthy man’s risk of developing cancer. For the study, “researchers gave almost 15,000 male physicians 50 years or over either a multivitamin or a placebo.”

The New York Times reports that after following the participants “for more than a decade,” the researchers “found that those taking a daily multivitamin experienced 8 percent fewer cancers than the subjects taking dummy pills.”

The investigators reported that “multivitamin use had no effect on the incidence of prostate cancer, which was the most common cancer diagnosed in the study participants.” When the investigators “looked at the effect of vitamin use on all other cancers, they found a 12 percent reduction in occurrence.”

The Washington Post “The Checkup” blog reports, “The study didn’t detect reductions in risk for any single form of cancer, just the total risk of a cancer diagnosis overall.”

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reports that “the researchers…pointed out that prostate cancer is often benign – and that the results suggest that multivitamins may prevent more serious types of cancer better than the study’s overall 8% mark.”

Bloomberg News reports, “The study’s authors couldn’t pinpoint any single reason for the reduction in cancer among those who took the supplements, though they speculated it may be due to the combination of several low-dose vitamins and minerals, where previous studies looked at the effect of high levels of individual nutrients.”

The CNN “The Chart” blog reports that the researchers “are also not sure that the results will be seen in other groups of people such as women or smokers. The men in this study were generally healthy physicians, not overweight or obese and most were non-smokers.”

NBC News reports, “The new study suggests that boosting nutrition, even with the modest nudge of a daily vitamin, could have far-reaching health benefits, said Dr. Demetrius Albanes, a senior investigator and expert in nutritional epidemiology with the National Cancer Institute.” According to Albanes, “It’s exciting. It’s encouraging.”

The Boston Globe “Daily Dose” blog reports, however, that according Dr. Albanes, “These are very encouraging results, but women weren’t included in this study, nor were younger men, nor those from a range of ethnicities.” Dr. Albanes added, “It’s one trial, and we’ve seen many cases where one trial doesn’t always give the final answer.”

CQ reports, “A number of studies in the past have come up with negligible evidence that multivitamins could prevent chronic illness, leading an NIH-sponsored conference to conclude that it could not recommend for or against the use of multivitamins to prevent such illness.”

Although “Albanes said he didn’t think the NIH would automatically reverse its position … he said the National Cancer Institute is looking closely at the trial and might do future clinical trials to include a more diverse population sample.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the study received funding from the National Institutes of Health. The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and presented at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting.

Forbes quotes George Sledge, a past-president of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, as saying, “This is a case of a statistically significant but not particularly impactful result.” Sledge adds, “The reduction in cancer incidence is small but real, but at the end of the day no one lived any longer.”

The AP reports that Dr. Ernest Hawk, formerly of the National Cancer Institute, said that “it’s a very mild effect and personally I’m not sure it’s significant enough to recommend to anyone,” but “at least this doesn’t suggest a harm.”

HealthDay reports, “The authors also collected information on multivitamin use and heart disease, eye disease and cognitive function, which will be presented at later dates.”

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