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Can taking a multivitamin reduce your risk of cancer?

In a large-scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (Physicians’ Health Study II), involving 14,641 US men initially aged 50 years or older, we learned that over a 14 year period, men who took a multivitamin had a statistically significant, 12 % reduction, in the incidence of cancer.

Millions of people take vitamins yearly, now research is starting to reveal some benefits.  


If you look a little closer at the study reported in JAMA, you find some interesting features of the study that I feel are worth discussing as I believe they play a role in the results of these types of studies.


When you look at the design of the study one key point jumps out.  The choice of multivitamin.  

The trial used a OTC synthetic vitamin (Centrum Silver).   Many of the trials of this type tend to use synthetic vitamins.   I define synthetic as not from plant or animal origin.  For example, there is a fundamental difference between the chemical structure of let’s say “B12”, which can be duplicated and produced in a chemical factory, and the “B12” you receive from whole food sources.  


Vitamins derived from food come with the full complement of co-factors, minerals, in the appropriate ratios your body will understand and readily utilize.  Many synthetic vitamins come in huge dosages and in combinations of vitamins that do not naturally occur in anything our bodies were ever designed to consume.  They often contain resins, binders, fillers and lack activating factors that help our body digest or utilize the vitamin structure in the pill.   I think that’s why I have mixed feelings about the JAMA article previously mentioned.  On one hand, I’m pleased that we’re seeing reductions in cancer with the addition of substances that typically will be harmless to most people.  If this study holds over larger groups of people, women and other ethnicities, then a 12 % reduction in cancer over time is a huge benefit both in terms of cost of care and quality of life.   


On the other hand, choosing to use substances, synthetically produced, ignoring the wisdom of nature and the combinations of vitamins found in whole foods, I think we fall short of the full potential of these types of interventions.  A truly innovative study would have utilized vitamins created from organically grown or raised plants and animals such as Catalyn.


I guess my take-away message centers on the clinical realization that there is a difference in “Vitamins.”  Taking just any vitamin likely doesn’t convey the same benefit depending on the quality or origin of the vitamin.  Nature knows best.  


I don’t presume to understand all the reasons why you don’t see studies like I’ve described, but cost, profitability, and clinical bias likely contribute to the lack of research I described.  


Here’s the link to the JAMA article for the health techies out there.  


Jama on multivitamins


For more recommendations on whole food nutritional supplementation check out:  




As always, I look forward to your comments and questions!

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