Millions of people take a daily multivitamin every day to stay healthy and avoid chronic diseases. And a study appearing in the edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that doing so can help reduce the risk of one of the most feared diseases—cancer.
Previous controversial studies published in the same journal approximately one year ago alleged that dietary supplements were harmful to your health. However, as scientists and health professionals reviewed the data and design of these two studies it became readily apparent that the controversial studies were poorly designed observational studies and more pseudoscience than science fact.
As part of the recent study, J. Michael Gaziano, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues analyzed data from the large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled Physicians’ Health Study (PHS) II trial. The trial followed almost 15,000 male physicians in the U.S. for an average of 11.2 years to determine the long-term effects of a common multivitamin in the prevention of chronic disease. Participants, who were age 50 years or older at the beginning of the study received a daily multivitamin or placebo.
What researchers found was that daily multivitamin use decreased total cancer incidence by a statistically significant eight percent. While modest, these data suggest that if everyone took a high-quality multivitamin daily more than 46,000 cancer deaths could be prevented annually.
Even men with a previous history of cancer achieved a reduction in cancer incidence. Multivitamins appeared to have the least impact on prostate cancer risk, but prostate cancer that was detected was very treatable. The researchers concluded that these data support the use of multivitamin supplements in the prevention of cancer among middle-aged men.
Individuals and supplement users need to remember that dietary supplements are not replacements for healthy eating and regular physical activity. They are called supplements for a reason—they are intended to complement your diet.
When you look for a daily multivitamin consider the following tips:
Purchase a whole food daily multivitamin. Study after study confirms that vitamins and minerals obtained from whole foods are better absorbed and utilized by the body.
Look for a multivitamin that you take in divided doses. While less convenient than a one-a-day vitamin, your body will only absorb and utilize a set amount of vitamins at any given time. By taking them all at once you are likely eliminating many of your vitamins through urination. Incidentally, the vitamin used in this trial was a once daily tablet, so you can get some benefit even from a once daily multivitamin.
Take a multivitamin with the right amount and a balanced level of vitamins and minerals. For example a growing body of evidence suggests the optimal level of vitamin D is from 1,000-3,000IU daily; vitamin A should be a mixture of beta-carotene and retinol; minerals should be appropriately balanced; and vitamin E should be a mixture of natural tocopherols and tocotrienols.