Can a daily multivitamin help lower a person’s chance of getting cancer? According to a recent report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, it might—but only for middle-aged and older men. In a study that followed nearly 15,000 male physicians over the age of 50 for an average of 11 years, daily multivitamin use showed a modest effect on preventing cancer. In fact, men in the study who took a daily multivitamin were almost eight percent less likely to be diagnosed with cancer than men who took a placebo.
Multivitamins are the most common dietary supplement, found in the medicine cabinets of at least one-third of American adults. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and affiliated institutions wanted to investigate whether long-term multivitamin use might reduce the risk of cancer. They conducted a randomized, controlled trial called the Physicians’ Health Study II, which began in 1997 and enrolled 14,641 male physicians in the United States who were age 50 and older. All of the men were randomly assigned to receive either a daily multivitamin (Centrum Silver was used in the study) or a daily placebo (sugar pill), and the researchers revisited them an average of 11 years later to evaluate if there was an overall reduction in cancer risk, excluding melanoma skin cancer.
This study, described as a large prevention trial, showed that there was a modest but statistically significant reduction—eight percent—in the risk of total cancer. Slightly more than 1,300 of the men had a history of cancer at the start of the trial, and the study showed no risk reduction for these men. Researchers also found no reduction in risk for specific types of cancer, including cancer of the bladder, colon, lung, and prostate. Additionally, the study showed there was no statistically significant reduction in overall risk of dying from cancer for the men who took the multivitamin.
The study researchers note that it is difficult to determine whether one specific vitamin in the multivitamin pill caused the reduction of cancer diagnoses. However, they do state that taking a multivitamin may mirror healthy eating habits from daily intakes of fruits and vegetables—foods that contain essential vitamins and minerals that have also been associated with a modest reduction in cancer. It is unclear whether multivitamins provide the same risk reduction for women, younger men, or people less healthy than the men in the study (only four percent of the men in the study smoked, and the group had an average body mass index of 26—just barely overweight). In fact, several other large-scale studies of multivitamins in women have shown little or no effect on the risk of cancer.
Debating whether to take a multivitamin? If you are a 50-plus guy, this recent research news makes it easy to swallow. Downing that daily multivitamin may have a modest benefit in cancer risk reduction.
The information in this article is offered for general educational purposes and is not intended to replace professional medical advice. You should not make any changes to the management of type 1 diabetes without first consulting your physician or other qualified medical professional.