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Not Enough Evidence to Recommend Supplements for Cancer, Heart Disease Protection

Drive Thru Neon Sign A new review of the research adds to previous findings that many popular supplements do not protect against cancer, with this analysis also suggesting multivitamins do not protect against heart disease. At least among individuals who were nutritionally healthy. The report was published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine by the US Preventive Task Force.

Not relying on supplements is one of AICR’s recommendations for cancer prevention – a recommendation made after analyzing the global research. Cancer and heart disease are the two leading causes of death in America.

The analysis reviewed all the new evidence since the last report, collecting only “good quality” studies. At the end of it, there were 26 new studies.

The studies included many of the most commonly used supplements, including vitamins B, C, D and E; zinc; magnesium; folic acid; beta-carotene; and selenium. All the studies included adults who were not nutrient deficient. Most were over 50 years old and participated in the study for under ten years.

Whether taking one supplement or a multivitamin, the analysis found no evidence that the supplement(s) affects risk of heart disease, cancer or overall mortality. This does not necessarily mean that certain supplements do not offer protection for certain populations.

As the authors note, except for vitamin E and beta-carotene there are few quality-studies.

Overall, the study found little evidence that supplements cause harm with a few notable exceptions. Smokers who took beta-carotene supplements had an increased risk of lung cancer, for example. And a large trial found that the group taking vitamin D and calcium supplements had a small increase in kidney stones.

Stephen P. Fortmann, MD; Brittany U. Burda, MPH; Caitlyn A. Senger, MPH; Jennifer S. Lin, MD, MCR; and Evelyn P. Whitlock, MD, MPH. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. Published online 12 November 2013.

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