WEDNESDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- What has become a daily
ritual for millions of Americans may have an unintended and
A new study finds that men who take multivitamins every day for
several years may lower their risk of cancer by a small amount.
"Total cancer was reduced modestly by about 8 percent," said Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, lead author of the study that appears online Oct. 17 in the Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA).
However, the study found no difference in death rates from
cancer between people who took vitamins and those who took placebo
There was "a suggestion of a benefit in cancer mortality of
about 12 percent, but that was not quite statistically
significant," added Gaziano, who is a researcher with Brigham and
Women's Hospital and the Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare
The findings are also being presented Wednesday at the annual
cancer prevention conference of the American Association for Cancer
Research, held in Anaheim, Calif.
According to study background information, at least one-third of
American adults take multivitamins.
Although these tablets were originally developed to prevent
vitamin and mineral deficiencies, many people now also take
multivitamins in the hopes that they might prevent various
diseases, despite mixed evidence on the subject.
Some studies have shown potential harm from high doses of
certain single vitamins.
For this study, about 14,700 male physicians, all at least 50
years old, were randomly assigned to take either one multivitamin a
day, or a placebo.
The multivitamin used here was Centrum Silver. The study was
funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and BASF Corp.
Multivitamins were supplied by Pfizer, which makes Centrum
At the beginning of the study, 1,300 men (9 percent) of the
doctors had a history of cancer, although they were considered
cured when they enrolled in the trial.
After an average treatment time of 11.2 years, researchers found
an overall 8 percent reduction among men who took the multivitamin
There was no apparent effect on prostate cancer, which, not
surprisingly, was the most common cancer among this group of
middle-aged and older men.
Researchers also saw some improvements in risk for bladder, lung
and colorectal cancer and in men who had had a previous cancer, but
these numbers were not statistically significant.
There seemed to be no adverse side effects from the
multivitamins, the researchers said.
No one knows why multivitamins may have this beneficial effect,
although they are designed to mimic the content of fruits and
vegetables, which have been linked with a reduced risk of cancer,
"We can't speculate on whether there was one [vitamin or mineral] particularly amongst the many things that are in a standard multivitamin and mineral supplement or whether it was just the combination given at the right dose," said Gaziano, who is also a contributing editor for JAMA.
The study also can't be extrapolated to women or men of
different ages or with different types of vitamin supplements.
But the main reason to take multivitamins -- which is to prevent
vitamin and mineral deficiencies -- is unchanged by this paper,
said Dr. David Weinberg, chief of the department of medicine at Fox
Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
"It turns out that there might be some modest benefit and there does not appear to be any significant harm associated with multivitamins when it comes to cancer prevention," he added. "This data adds maybe a small, additional impetus to people to say 'Not only might multivitamins help make sure my nutritional status is as good as it can be, but they might also help prevent cancer in general.'"
The authors also collected information on multivitamin use and
heart disease, eye disease and cognitive function, which will be
presented at later dates.
U.S. National Cancer Institutehas more on
vitamins as well as minerals and herbs in cancer treatment.
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