Why vitamins don’t reduce your risk for cancer

March 3, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 15

Every few months, we see news stories concluding that vitamins and minerals simply make “expensive urine.” Many people believe it’s a campaign to discredit the value of nutritional supplements. All you hear about is how they don’t cure or prevent anything. The implication is that if you buy them, you’re just wasting your money.

That’s what the headlines say. But it’s not what the studies say.

Recently, researchers randomly selected 7,500 women to take either vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, all of them, or none. The researchers wanted to know whether or not taking antioxidants prevented cancer. The conclusion was that they didn’t.

This sounds like very damaging evidence against the supplements. And that’s what the media reported. But the study had several very significant flaws. The first flaw is that the researchers didn’t give the participants large enough quantities of these vitamins. In fact, they didn’t even give them these nutrients daily. The participants took the nutrients every other day.

Your body doesn’t need vitamins every other day. It needs them daily. And it needs large enough amounts of them to protect against disease. But that’s not what these women took in this large study. They took only 500 mg of vitamin C every other day. A good multivitamin formula will contain 1,000 mg or more every day.

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They also took only 50 IUs of beta carotene every other day. And just how much is this? Unlike milligrams, the definition of IUs varies from one substance to another. So it’s difficult to know how much beta carotene these study participants actually took. One thing we know, however: they didn’t take these antioxidants every day.

But that’s not all. The second serious flaw in the study is that the researchers used synthetic vitamins. This is nothing new. Historically, researchers tend to use synthetic vitamins in scientific studies. While scientists may prefer synthetics for standardization, they are not the standard for good health. Synthetic nutrients behave differently in your body than do natural substances.

Finally, it’s a mistake to look to vitamins and minerals to either cure or prevent any disease on their own. While some cases do respond to these nutrients, particularly when there’s a specific deficiency, they are still called “supplements” for a reason. They work best when used with other treatments, exercise, medications, and diet.

Taking small amounts of synthetic nutrients won’t prevent much of anything. But higher amounts of natural substances, both in your diet and in your supplements, can go a long way toward supporting your health and helping you fight various illnesses. If you’re still not convinced, check the Internet for hundreds of studies that find them valuable.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


"Vitamins C and E and Beta Carotene Supplementation and Cancer Risk: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Jennifer Lin , Nancy R. Cook , Christine Albert , Elaine Zaharris , J. Michael Gaziano , Martin Van Denburgh , Julie E. Buring , and JoAnn E. Manson. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Advance Access published on December 30, 2008.

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