A new study published today in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found “daily multivitamin supplementation modestly but significantly reduced the risk of total cancer” in a large population of healthy male physicians.
The multivitamin and cancer arm of the Physicians’ Health Study (PHS) II, the only large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (RCT) to study the long-term effects of a multivitamin in chronic disease, was conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and will be presented today by lead corresponding author J. Michael Gaziano, M.D., M.P.H., at the annual American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research meeting. PHS II studied nearly 15,000 male U.S. physicians aged 50 years and older for over a decade.
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association for the dietary supplement industry, the well-designed study provides encouraging news, particularly for healthy men looking to remain healthy. “This study reinforces the value of long-term consistent use of a daily multivitamin as a convenient and affordable insurance policy for good health,” said Duffy MacKay, N.D., CRN’s vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs. “Whether or not this study can be generalized to the total population is not answered by this study; however, there are other well-researched benefits for the multivitamin in the general population.”
For example, women of child-bearing age are regularly advised to take a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects such as spina bifida. Additionally, many Americans, despite being overfed, are not getting the essential nutrients necessary for good health, and a daily multivitamin helps fill those nutrition gaps.
In fact, in CRN’s most recent annual consumer survey on dietary supplements, when asked why they take dietary supplements, vitamin/mineral users ranked “to help reduce the risk of serious illness” eighth on the list, with “overall health and wellness benefits” and “to fill in nutrient gaps in their diet” cited as the number one and two reasons, respectively.
Not only did this study provide good news for the supplement industry and its consumers, but it provided another reminder that science should be viewed in the context of the full body of scientific literature. For those who have previously tried to shut the door on the benefits of taking a multivitamin, this study, says Dr. MacKay, “pushes the door and the windows wide open to the benefits and safety of multivitamins.”
CRN urges the importance of keeping in mind that cancer is a multifactorial disease, and that even with the positive scientific news demonstrated by this study, consumers would be wise to also engage in other common-sense habits. Preventing chronic disease, such as cancer, likely involves the combination of long-term consistent, smart lifestyle choices, including a healthy diet, vitamins and other supplements, regular exercise, routine visits to your physician, and decreasing stress. Says Dr. McKay, “By all means, take your daily multivitamin, as a supplement to, not a substitute for, other healthy lifestyle choices.”
- The multivitamin is the most popular dietary supplement.
- 52 percent of American adults take multivitamins; 42 percent of American adults take multivitamins regularly.
- 56 percent of American adult women and 48 percent of American adult men take multivitamins.
- 72 percent of physicians personally use dietary supplements and the multivitamin is the most popular dietary supplement taken by this population.