Cancer Risk Drops 8% with Daily Multivitamin

taking multivitamin

Many people are familiar with the typical cancer prevention strategies: don’t use tobacco, stay physically active, eat healthy, stay out of the sun, and get regular medical checkups. However, researchers are consistently looking for new and easy actions that may help prevent the devastating condition.

For example, men over the age of 50 looking to reduce cancer risk would be wise to take a multivitamin daily, according to a new study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Over the course of an 11-year study period, men over the age of 50 reduced their likelihood of developing cancer by 8% when they took a daily multivitamin as opposed to a placebo. Unfortunately, cancer death rates were the same among both groups, as were risks for specific types of cancer such as colon, lung and prostate.

Nutrition from Vitamins vs. Nutrition from Food

Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and author who had no involvement in the study, said that she doesn’t believe the findings to be a “game changer.” If anything, she said, the findings make her less wary of daily multivitamin use on the part of older men. According to Tallmadge, the goal should be to get as many of your daily vitamins and minerals as possible through food. Multivitamins and other supplements should only be used when meeting this goal for the day proves impossible.

In recent years, various studies have indicated that vitamin supplements may carry health risks. A 2011 study of U.S. men found a 17% increase in prostate cancer risk among men who took vitamin E supplements every day, and a 2010 study in Sweden found a 19% increase in breast cancer risk among women who took a multivitamin every day. In many studies, researchers suggested that these health risks resulted from a prolonged overdose of certain vitamins. This could occur, for example, if you consistently consumed the daily recommendation of a particular vitamin through food but also supplemented for it with a multivitamin.

Although some other studies have indicated multivitamin users reduce cancer risk, a wide range of studies have suggested the same for those who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

About the Study

During the study, Dr. J. Michael Gaziano and other researchers looked at the health data of nearly 15,000 male doctors. Each doctor was tracked in the study for approximately 11 years. All types of cancer aside from non-melanoma skin cancers were documented in the study.

A few statistics were generated from the research:

  • 2,669 of the men developed some type of cancer
  • 859 of the men died from cancer
  • 17 out of 1,000 men developed cancer each year while taking a multivitamin
  • 18.3 out of 1,000 men developed cancer each year while taking a placebo
  • 50% of the cancer cases were prostate cancer in its early stages

According to the researchers, it’s difficult to say exactly which components of the multivitamin were responsible for the reduction in cancer risk. Different multivitamins have varying vitamins and minerals in varying ratios. The study was funded by the vitamin manufacturer BASF Corp.

The Bottom Line

According to a new study, men who take a multivitamin every day may reduce their risk of developing cancer by 8%. If prostate cancer had been excluded from the study, the risk reduction would have increased to 12%. However, researchers still agree that the best way to receive vitamins and minerals, and consequently reduce cancer risk, is through food sources.

The full text of the study is available online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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