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Study: Multivitamins reduce cancer risk in older men

Multivitamins are poured from a bottle.

Multivitamins are poured from a bottle. Credit: AP

Middle-age and older men who took a daily multivitamin were less likely to develop cancer than those who didn't, medical scientists have found in research published Wednesday.

In an examination of nearly 15,000 men 50 and older who took a daily multivitamin for 11 years, there was an 8 percent lower risk of cancer, compared with men who took a placebo.

Multivitamins are the most common dietary supplement, consumed by one-third of U.S. adults, regardless of gender, reported doctors at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who led the new investigation.

Ostensibly, vitamin and mineral supplements are taken to mitigate nutritional deficiencies. But Dr. Howard Sesso, one of the study's co-authors, said many people consume vitamins on the premise they ward off cancer and other serious ailments, a notion that's widely believed but poorly tested. The findings provide a modicum of support to that belief.

"We found a modest but significant reduction in [cancer] risk for men taking a daily multivitamin," said Sesso, whose team is studying participants in the Physicians' Health Study II, examining male doctors nationwide, including on Long Island.

The Physicians' Health Study I, which ran from 1982 to 1995, produced the landmark conclusion that a daily low-dose aspirin tablet prevents heart attacks.

The findings were published Wednesday in the online edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported by Sesso and colleagues at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in California.

"Our results certainly suggest that men should be considering a multivitamin as part of their daily routine," Sesso said.

Vitamins used in the research were identified as Centrum Silver, based on the commercially available formulation in the late 1990s when the research project was organized.

Doctors participating in the study consumed diets rich in fruits and vegetables and took either a daily multivitamin or a look-alike placebo, said Dr. J. Michael Graziano, the co-author.

Another study is expected to be released next month based on the same group of physicians and whether multivitamins have an impact on reducing heart conditions.

In the current research, 1,290 men out of 7,317 who took multivitamins were diagnosed with cancer, compared with 1,379 who developed some form of the disease out of the 7,324 men who took placebos.

Sesso said those in the vitamin group had lower rates of all forms of cancer, including lung and colorectal cancers.

Still, last year a nationwide study of 35,000 men concluded high doses of vitamin E produced a 17 percent increased risk of developing prostate tumors compared with men who took a placebo. The high dose was 400 milligrams daily. About 372 Long Island men participated in that study at Stony Brook University Hospital, and an additional 24 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.

Still undocumented in the multivitamin research is whether the cancer-reduction effect can be extrapolated to other groups: women the same age as men in the study as well as younger men and women.

CONFIRM SPELLING PLEASE. tpDESK, PLEASE RESTORE FOR THE WEB/kk"It certainly raises the question whether these results can be equally applicable to others," Sesso noted, adding that only additional studies involving a more diverse group can confirm multivitamins' broadly useful.