Study Deals a Second Blow to Vitamin E and C

Researchers conducting the Physicians’ Health Study II dealt vitamins E and C a second blow this week, after announcing on Nov. 16 that older men who took the vitamins were no more or less likely to develop cancer than men who were given a placebo. 


Other results from the same study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that vitamin E and C supplementation in the same population of men failed to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Physicians’ Health Study II tracked cancer risk in 14,641 male U.S. doctors who took either 400 IU of vitamin E every other day or a placebo, or 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily or a placebo. The study participants were an average age of 64 at the beginning of the study and were tracked for an average of eight years.

Howard Sesso of the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston shared the study’s cancer results at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. In an interview with the Reuters news service, Sesso said, "In our view, there's really no compelling reason to take these individual vitamin E and C supplements. Until other evidence comes out otherwise, we would argue that without any clear benefit, why would you take these?” The study’s cancer findings will be published in the latest issue of JAMA.

The results of the study showing that vitamins C and E do not help prevent heart attacks and strokes were published in the Nov. 12 issue of JAMA. In response to these findings, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) quickly issued a press release saying that the vitamins provide other important benefits.

“We commend the researchers for undertaking this important prevention trial, which sought to confirm positive results demonstrated by earlier observational trials on these antioxidant vitamins,” said Andrew Shao, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN. “Although the results did not demonstrate an overall benefit, the results also do not discount the earlier epidemiological data showing that people with high intakes of vitamins E and C may have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Nutrition research is extremely complex, and doesn’t always provide clear cut answers. This study raises an interesting set of scientific challenges as to why the benefits found in observational studies have not been confirmed in this kind of trial.”

“The truth is, we don’t have conclusive scientific evidence in the form of randomized, controlled trials that demonstrate exactly how to prevent cardiovascular disease,” Shao added. “We do know there are some well-known practical approaches—like not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a diet with a variety of foods, regular exercise, seeing your physician, and responsible use of vitamin supplements. Consumers should not take vitamins expecting that vitamins alone will prevent cardiovascular disease, but they should continue to take vitamins for the general health benefits they provide.”

Peter Shields, MD, deputy director of Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, agreed. In an interview with the Associated Press, he said that the new study does not mean vitamins C and E have no value; it just showed that supplementation didn't prevent cancer in this group of doctors, who may be healthier than the general population.

According to NBJ research, vitamin E sales dropped 4.3% to $391 million in 2007, while vitamin C sales grew 2.3% to $884 million.

If you are an NBJ Subscriber and would like to read more of NBJ’s coverage of the vitamin E and vitamin C market, click the following links:
Has Vitamin E Turned the Corner?
Government Pulls the Plug on Vitamin E, Selenium Cancer Prevention Study
Raw Vitamins: Suppliers React to the Realities of a Mature Market
Close-Up Look at China’s Vitamin Raw Materials Business

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