Multivitamins may reduce a man's risk of developing cancer.

Ever wonder if those multivitamins you’ve been taking actually benefit your health?  A large scale clinical trial by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital may provide the answer.

“The Physicians’ Health Study II is the first clinical trial to test the affects of multivitamins on a major disease such as cancer,” said lead author Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, chief of the Division of Aging at BWH.  “Despite the fact that more than one-third of Americans take multivitamins, their long-term effects were unknown until now.”

Researchers had nearly 15,000 men over the age of 50 take either a multivitamin or a placebo every day for more than 10 years.  The men reported whether they had a cancer diagnosis on periodic follow-up surveys over the course of the study.  Researchers confirmed the cancer diagnosis by examining medical records. Researchers found the group taking a daily multivitamin had an eight percent reduction in cancer cases reported versus those taking placebo.  The researchers also found that multivitamin use was associated with an apparent reduction in cancer deaths.

It’s important to point out that the study did not provide information on which specific vitamins or minerals in a multivitamin may be responsible for the reduction in cancer risk.  Also, it is not known if the results can extend to women or to men younger than the age of 50.

Study co-author Dr. Howard D. Sesso, an associate epidemiologist in the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH said, “Many studies have suggested that eating a nutritious diet may reduce a man’s risk of developing cancer.  Now we know that taking a daily multivitamin, in addition to addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, may also be considered in the prevention of cancer in middle-aged and older men.”

While the results of the study are promising, it’s important to remember that vitamins are not a substitute for eating a healthy diet.  The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that your primary source of daily nutrients should come from eating a healthy diet.  You also should talk with your physician before taking any vitamins or nutritional supplements.

For more tips on nutrition and eating for health, visit BWH Health e-Weight.

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