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Heavy multivitamin use linked to cancer in men

May 18, 2007
Courtesy JNCI
and World Science staff

Tak­ing too many mul­ti­vi­ta­mins may be as­so­ci­at­ed with an in­creased risk for ad­vanced or fa­tal pros­tate can­cers, ac­cord­ing to a study in the May 16 is­sue of the Jour­nal of the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans take mul­ti­vi­ta­mins be­cause of a be­lief in their po­ten­tial health ben­e­fits, even though there is lim­it­ed sci­en­tif­ic ev­i­dence for this. Re­search­ers have won­dered what im­pact mul­ti­vi­ta­min use might have on can­cer risk.

Kar­la Law­son of the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute in Be­thes­da, Md., and col­leagues fol­lowed 295,344 men en­rolled in the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health-AARP Di­et and Health Study. 

Af­ter five years of fol­low-up, 10,241 men were di­ag­nosed with pros­tate can­cer, in­clud­ing 8,765 with can­cers re­strict­ed to a small ar­ea and 1,476 with ad­vanced can­cers. 

The re­search­ers found no link be­tween mul­ti­vi­ta­min use and the risk of lo­cal­ized pros­tate can­cer. But they did find an in­creased risk of ad­vanced and fa­tal pros­tate can­cer among men who used mul­ti­vi­ta­mins more than se­ven times weekly, com­pared with men who did not use mul­ti­vi­ta­mins. The as­socia­t­ion was strongest in men with a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of pros­tate can­cer and men who al­so took se­le­ni­um, beta-ca­ro­tene, or zinc sup­ple­ments.

“Be­cause mul­ti­vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments con­sist of a com­bina­t­ion of sev­er­al vi­ta­mins and men us­ing high lev­els of mul­ti­vi­ta­mins were al­so more like­ly to take a va­ri­e­ty of in­di­vid­ual sup­ple­ments, we were un­able to iden­ti­fy or quan­ti­fy in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents re­spon­si­ble for the as­socia­t­ions that we ob­served,” the au­thors write. 

In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing ed­i­to­ri­al, Goran Bje­lakovic of the Un­ivers­ity of Nis in Ser­bia, and Chris­tian Gluud of Co­pen­ha­gen Un­iver­s­ity Hos­pi­tal in Den­mark, dis­cuss the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive health ef­fects of an­ti­ox­i­dant sup­ple­ments. “Law­son [and col­leagues] add to the grow­ing ev­i­dence that ques­tions the ben­e­fi­cial val­ue of an­ti­ox­i­dant vit­a­min pills in gen­er­al­ly well-nour­ished pop­ula­t­ions and un­der­score the pos­si­bil­ity that an­ti­ox­i­dant sup­ple­ments could have un­in­tend­ed con­se­quenc­es for our health,” the au­thors wrote.


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Taking too many multivitamins may be associated with an increased risk for advanced or fatal prostate cancers, according to a study in the May 16 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Millions of Americans take multivitamins because of a belief in their potential health benefits, even though there is limited scientific evidence for this. Researchers have wondered what impact multivitamin use might have on cancer risk. Karla Lawson, Ph.D., of the N ational Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., and colleagues followed 295,344 men enrolled in the N ational Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study to determine the associ ation between multivitamin use and prostate cancer risk. After five years of follow-up, 10,241 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, including 8,765 with cancers restricted to a small area and 1,476 with advanced cancers. The researchers found no associ ation between multivitamin use and the risk of localized prostate cancer. But they did find an increased risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancer among men who used multivitamins more than seven times a week, compared with men who did not use multivitamins. The associ ation was strongest in men with a family history of prostate cancer and men who also took selenium, beta-carotene, or zinc supplements. “Because multivitamin supplements consist of a combin ation of several vitamins and men using high levels of multivitamins were also more likely to take a variety of indi vidual supplements, we were un able to identify or quantify indi vidual components responsible for the associ ations that we observed,” the authors write. In an accompanying editorial, Goran Bjelakovic of the Un ivers ity of Nis in Serbia, and Christian Gluud of Copenhagen Un ivers ity Hospital in Denmark, discuss the positive and negative health effects of antioxidant supplements. “Lawson [and colleagues] add to the growing evidence that questions the beneficial value of antioxidant vitamin pills in generally well-nourished popul ations and un derscore the possibil ity that antioxidant supplements could have un intended consequences for our health,” the authors wrote.