If you diligently take your multivitamin every day believing it’s got to help somehow, a new study has got your back. In a recently completed large clinical trial of older men, a link was established between taking a daily multivitamin and a moderate decrease in cancer rates.
Specifically, nearly 15,000 U.S. male doctors aged 50 and older participated in the placebo-controlled study over a median range of 11.3 years. Patients took a daily multivitamin (Centrum Silver from Pfizer) or a placebo. A statistically significant reduction of 8 percent in total cancer incidence was observed among those taking the multivitamin daily. The study was recently published online in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
So it’s not a cure, but every little bit helps when it comes to cancer.
But like all studies, there are some important caveats to consider. For one, this study not only included only older men, but those men just so happened to be physicians as well. That’s an important component to the findings because older physicians likely have quality healthcare and have had it in the past. Furthermore, their knowledge base about medicine means that they’re likely to have more awareness about their health and preventative medicine in general. That isn’t to say that they are altogether healthy either. Doctors are notoriously overworked and under enormous stress as well as struggling with weight issues like many Americans.
Another important point to consider is that the reduction in cancer incidence seemed to vary with the type of cancer. While the number of cancers reported overall was lower, there was no difference in the number of prostate or colorectal cancers reported. This could be because the sample size was not large enough to resolve a difference or because of the specific role the multivitamins play.
It remains to be seen whether the multivitamin benefit of this study is universal or helping a particular segment of society that is has a specific kind of lifestyle.
Still it’s good news for multivitamins and dietary supplements in general, especially with experts casting doubt lately on their usefulness. For example, a recent federal report stated that 20 percent of supplements are improperly labeled or make claims that have not been scientifically proven. While research at one time suggested the health benefit of fish oils, a slew of recent studies have cast doubt on those claims. With all the negative press, a third of Americans still take a daily multivitamin and half take some kind of supplement.
It wasn’t that long ago when another widely available pill became the cancer prevention golden child: aspirin. Last spring, three separate studies were published linking daily aspirin with lower cancer incidence in the range of 20 to 30 percent. At the same time, however, other studies have shown no effect with aspirin on cancer rates. More recent studies suggest that aspirin may help prevent cancer’s spread and recurrence, yet these are focused on specific types of cancer only.
Although cancer deaths in the U.S. continue to decline, increases in longevity ensure that cancer will affect more people as they live longer.
So what’s going on here? Why do new studies come out every few months, some of which correct or negate previous studies? And why does it seem like nothing about cancer prevention seems definitive?
One of the biggest problems with cancer is that it’s not just one disease. In fact, a recent genomic study identified four separate and distinct types of breast cancer alone. Furthermore, cancer varies with gender, race, age, and culture. It also makes a significant difference where the cancer originates in the body. Many men, for instance, get prostate cancer and survive, but the same cannot be said for pancreatic cancer. How the disease affects the body has a lot to do with physiology, which is influenced by a multitude of factors including diet and drugs. Finally, scientists are just starting to unravel cancer at both the molecular and genetic levels. As it stands, we don’t really understand all that is going on with cancer, but what is known is that it’s fairly complex.
All this means that cancer is probably the greatest medical challenge in history. Though we are closing in on a cure, it is a long road full of small successes, which now includes this latest news about the preventative benefits of multivitamins. Hopefully, this finding can be verified or at least help to further unravel the mysteries of cancer.
image: pawel 231 at sxc.hu