Multivitamins May Reduce Cancer Risk
The headlines were dramatic. "Daily multivitamin cuts men's cancer risk by 8%." It was a stunning reversal of what clinical researchers have been saying for years.
Until this study by Brigham and Women's Hospital, every major clinical trial showed multivitamins provide no cancer protection. Many large studies were stopped early after it was found people taking multivitamins actually suffered serious harm.
Now keep in mind we're not talking about people taking a specific vitamin to handle a deficiency: such as someone with scurvy taking C or a pregnant woman taking neo-natal vitamins. We're talking about average, everyday people who have no diagnosed deficiency taking a multivitamin "for better health."
So what was different this time? Let's break down the numbers.
In the Brigham and Women's Hospital study, 15,000 male physicians, all over the age of 50, either took a Centrum Silver or a placebo for 11 years. At the end of the study, the people taking the Centrum had an 8% lower risk of cancer. Here's what that means.
For every 1,000 men in the study, after 11 years, 17 were diagnosed with cancer in the multivitamin group and 18 in the placebo group. Think about that for a minute. Eighteen people out of a thousand got cancer in the placebo group. Seventeen people out of a thousand got cancer in the multivitamin group.
That means only 1 out of every 1,000 men over the age of 50, who took the multivitamin for 11 years, might have achieved some level of cancer protection.
So why aren't I using this information to tell everyone they should start taking a multivitamin? Because of the extremely low-level of benefit, how the study contradicts all the larger-scale studies done previously and the limited population it was tested on.
This study was conducted on male physicians over the age of 50. The average age of the participants was 65. In every single other large-scale study conducted on mixed populations, teenagers, women or specific ethnic groups, regular multivitamin use caused more harm than good. There are NO large scale and/or long-term studies showing any other group of people can benefit from taking multivitamins. Also, almost every study shows high doses of multivitamins can cause significant harm.
This study also found that although there was a slight difference in cancer detection, there was no statistical difference in death from the multivitamin takers. You read that right. The possible reduction in cancer from multivitamin use did not result in a statistically significant reduction in death from cancer.
There were other problems too. The vitamin takers experienced more cases of rashes. Some were so severe, the multivitamin use had to be discontinued.
Multivitamins takers should always be screened for prior health conditions. Vitamin K can interfere with blood thinners and many heart medications. Vitamin C and E can interfere with the effectiveness of some forms of chemotherapy. If those conditions apply to you, multivitamins are considered too risky for long-term use.
Smokers must also be warned. Both current and former smokers should avoid multivitamins with Vitamin A and beta-carotene because numerous studies tie those vitamins to an increased risk of lung cancer.
If you're really concerned about cancer, you should consider one of three lifestyle changes. Start eating a healthy diet, exercise 3-4 times a week or quit smoking. Each one of those actions can lower cancer risk by 20 to 30%!
The Bottom Line
If you're a lifelong non-smoking male over the age of 50, who doesn't develop a rash when taking a multivitamin, who's not currently on blood thinners or heart medications and you're not being treated with any form of chemotherapy, consider taking a daily Centrum Silver. Based on this study, you have 1 chance in 1,000 that if you take that pill for 11 years or more, it might lower your risk of cancer.
For everybody else, continue with the advice we've been giving out for years. Avoid multivitamins unless prescribed for a specific medical issue.
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