Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Do Multivitamins Increase Your Risk for Breast Cancer?

When I saw the above topic in a recent article on Reuters Health, it grabbed my attention. After a closer look at the study behind it however, I was both relieved and concerned to find that this statement isn’t just eye-catching, it’s presumptuous and misleading.

This new study followed 35,000 cancer-free Swedish women between the ages of 49 and 83 for ten years. Findings revealed that those women who reported multivitamin use were 19 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not, even after factors such as age, family history, weight, diet, smoking and drinking habits were accounted for. Even so, the study authors admit that a causal link was not established and that additional factors that could potentially account for this type of association remained unexamined.

Most importantly, the study revealed:

Women who took multivitamins were more likely to have received post-secondary education, have a history of benign breast disease, have no children and to have used oral contraceptives and postmenopausal hormone replacement than women who did not use multivitamins. Multivitamin users had lower BMIs than non-users and were less likely to smoke.

One would think that having a history of breast disease, not having children, and the use of synthetic hormones would be a much more likely factor in developing breast cancer than multivitamin use. And it appears that those taking multivitamins were actually healthier!

This study lacks important analytical components and is inherently flawed because of it. Yet its conclusion will most certainly garner more attention than it’s worth, in sheer virtue of the unnecessary fear it inspires in the millions of loyal vitamin-takers around the world.

There’s no doubt that a wide variety of fresh, organic whole food and less processed food is the very best way to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals. But the fact remains, for most people following a typical Western diet, this situation is not the reality. In these cases, supplementation is not only helpful, but a crucial step in staying disease-free, not least of all where breast cancer risk is concerned.

The truth is that vitamins and minerals are among your best allies in the fight against breast cancer, in particular the powerful antioxidant vitamins A and C. Research shows that these two work synergistically in combination to inhibit human breast cancer cell proliferation. Similar results have been seen with vitamin E and D3,the latter of which is the most bio-available form of supplemental vitamin D. Adequate levels of all of these vitamins are critical if you want to stay cancer-free, along with the trace elements zinc and selenium, two minerals which are linked with lower rates of cancer in population studies.

These nutrients play important roles in my own integrative cancer protocols, and I’ve witnessed their benefit in many patients firsthand. To suggest that a standard multivitamin might somehow contribute to the development of breast cancer is simply misleading . Sadly, this isn’t the first time a mainstream study has attempted to discredit the value of preventative medicine. However, the evidence in support of properly balanced vitamins and nutrients in the fight against disease remains strong as more studies every year demonstrate their benefits on health and longevity.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 24, 2010

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