In the Headlines: Vitamins Cause Cancer

Posted by Grace McCalmon on

SHUTTERSTOCK Two days ago the Mirror published a story with the headline: “Too many vitamins can give you CANCER, major new study warns the millions who take them” A bold claim indeed (especially when it’s written in all caps, Kanye-style). Since Monday the headline has been covered from Nigeria to Toronto, appearing on major media sites like CBS and Time. Even Rush Limbaugh got in on the excitement with a decidedly more direct message: Vitamins Can Kill You. But do we really need to spit out our gummies before we keel over? Let’s break down the hullabaloo… WHAT THE NEWS IS SAYING According to the majority of press coverage, Dr. Tim Byers, director for cancer prevention and control at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, conducted a meta-analysis (a method that uses statistics to compare research results) of 12 trials that involved more than 300,000 people, and found certain supplements made a person more likely to develop certain types of cancer. PROBLEM #1: THEY CHERRY PICKED THE RESEARCH Dr. Beyers’ presentation at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting on Monday was based on research conducted in 2012, which you can read in full here. What the news does not report is that in the 30,000 person trial, cancer mortality was actually reduced by 13% and gastric cancer mortality by 21%. It was in a smaller study of 3,000 people that cancer of the gastric cardia was increased, but only by 4% – so low it was not statistically significant. Yet, also in this smaller study, cancer of the gastric cardia/esophageal junction was decreased by 8% and cancer of the esophagus was decreased by 16%. PROBLEM #2: THE CLAIMS ARE GENERALIZED The media is reporting that Byers’ analysis found high doses of beta carotene, selenium, vitamin E and folic acid to be linked with an increased risk for cancer. However, these trials were studying the effects of only one nutrient in abnormally high amounts, and many of the sample populations were high-risk individuals, including those who already had a history of disease. For example, the beta carotene study followed heavy smokers and asbestos-exposed individuals who supplemented with a combination of 30 mg of beta carotene and 25,000 IU of retinol (vitamin A) per day – this is more than ten times the recommended daily allowance (RDA). The problem is that the media took the effects of very high doses of specific nutrients in specific populations and generalized them to all vitamins for all people. PROBLEM #3: NUTRIENTS WORK TOGETHER Interestingly, in the study which observed reduced cancer mortality, participants received a combination of β-carotene, vitamin E, and selenium. This positive effect could be related to the fact no nutrient is found by itself in nature. Nutrients in food are present in combinations so that they can work together. For example, vitamin D protects against vitamin A toxicity. This is why SmartyPants combines nutrients in a very specific way, delivering a range of vitamins in combinations that mirror nature as closely as possible. THEY SAY: BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT TAKING SUPPLEMENTS Byers advises consumers to be careful taking supplements, but later goes on to say people don’t need to be afraid of taking vitamins and minerals, “If taken at the correct dosage, multivitamins can be good for you.” WE SAY: COULDN'T AGREE MORE Vitamins should be taken seriously, and how you take them, in what forms and from what sources matter. When it comes to supplementing, you have to do your research and invest in brands that pride themselves on their ingredients. Chances are, if you found your vitamins at the bottom of the clearance bin, they might not be jam-packed with research-backed, lab-tested nutrients. There’s no substitute for good nutritious food, and people should avoid supplementing at high doses. But as we all know, there are days when our diet is less Garden of Eden and more 7-11. It happens, that’s life. This is why SmartyPants only includes only the nutrients that are hardest to get through food, in doses that help us close the gap between dietary perfection and reality.
  Know anyone who's a little wary about vitamins? Or maybe a supplement fantatic? Share this with them! What's your opinion on this topic? We'd love to hear in the comments!

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