Multivitamin users – at least a third of all Americans – cite a number of reasons for taking their dailies, including improved immunity, a boost in energy, and a heightened sense of overall wellness. Now add to that list a reduced risk of cancer, says a group of researchers from Harvard Medical School.
How much of a reduction? About eight percent, according to the study which was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) International Conference and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Data was collected from the 1997-2007 Physician’s Health Study II (PHS II), a decade-long Harvard study of nearly 15,000 male doctors, aged 50 and older, specifically designed to study the effects of multivitamins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and prostate cancer.
The PHS II is the first long-term, randomized clinical trial that advocates the benefits of regular multivitamin use; past studies have tested the effects of high dosage single vitamins or combinations not available to the average consumer.
Participants were given either multivitamins or placebos over the course of the study, and health information, including any changes in health such as the occurrence of cancer, was reported regularly. In the event of a health change, physicians reviewed participants’ medical records to verify the self-reported information.
During the trial period, 1,379 men in the placebo group developed some form of cancer (18.3 cancers per 1,000 men annually) compared to 1,290 men in the multivitamin group (17.0 cancers per 1,000 men annually), showing a reduction of about eight percent.
The reduced cancer risk did not seem to affect the rate of prostate cancer; however, the multivitamin users did show a 12% lower risk of developing other forms of cancer, with the effect amplified in individuals who had previously fought cancer. There was a 12% reduction in the risk of death from cancer as well.
Researchers hypothesize that the difference could be attributed to the way multivitamins address micronutrient deficiencies or that low doses of several vitamins and minerals might work together to prevent cancer.
Though the study was conducted on mostly healthy, white males over the age of 50, researchers contend the benefits of multivitamin use are not limited to this group.
“We seem to think that the mechanism of effect of a multivitamin is blind to who’s taking it,” said Dr. Howard D. Sesso, study co-author and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “If it’s the combo of all the vitamins and minerals together that interact together to potentially reduce cancer risk, it might not matter whether you’re a man, woman, or otherwise.”
The Bottom Line
This study provides some intriguing information regarding cancer prevention and multi-vitamin & mineral use. However, while taking supplements is part of a healthy lifestyle, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that taking a multi will help prevent cancer. Clearly, more research is needed in this area.
The risk of developing many types of cancers is greatly influenced by diet and lifestyle. Population studies show that cancer rates are lower in groups of people that eat a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. Conversely, lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and sun exposure, increase the risk for developing lung, breast and skin cancer, respectively.
The ideal source for vitamins and minerals is food – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins – because they contain flavonoids, carotenoids, and other necessary micronutrients that keep us healthy.
Still, getting the right amount and balance of necessary nutrients is a struggle for most adults who either don’t know what and how much they need or simply don’t have the time to plan out a nutritionally balanced diet.
A supplement like VitaMedica’s comprehensive Multi-Vitamin & Mineral can help provide protection against nutritional deficiencies and ensure you get the recommended percent daily values of 27 essential vitamins and minerals.
As always, our philosophy is that taking a MVM should be part of a healthy lifestyle that promotes physical exercise on most days of the week, a diet that features fruits & veggies, stress management, no smoking, and limited alcohol intake. If you do all of these things, you’ll extend your health span and most likely beat the odds of developing cancer.