Rethink your multivitamin: Extended use has links to breast cancer

Dinnertime is when it happens.  I relentlessly take my vitamins after my meal; first my One-a-day, then my fish oil, then my vitamin C, then my Viactiv; In that order.  Even on the days when we eat out, my husband always reminds me:  “Don’t forget take your vitamins.”  A friend told me a couple of days ago about recent research from Consumer Reports about the link between extended use of vitamins and breast cancer.  After reading it and then the actual study, I have to stay I’m starting to re-evaluate the reliability that I have always counted on with the use of multivitamins.  Read on.

The specific study in reference comes from Sweden and printed as abstract in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  In it, the study analyzes the possibility that multivitamins may not have any effect in preventing breast cancer.  35,000 Swedish women ages 49- 83 and their use of multivitamins, diet, and health style were followed for 9 1/2 years.  Consideration for breast cancer in family history, age, and even the use of hormone therapy were also taken.  Out of the women in the study, 3.25% were diagnosed with breast cancer during the duration of the study (over 9 1/2 years).  Out of those who did not take multivitamins, only 2.6% women developed breast cancer.  The conclusion indicates that those who took the multivitamins had a 19% increased risk of getting breast cancer.

Should I dump my multivitamins?  Maybe.  Does multivitamins cause an increase in breast cancer for women?  This study doesn’t say.  It is important to note that there could be other factors involved for the increase of the chance of breast cancer, such as being less healthy, or taking into account environmental factors, for instance. What this study is showing is that women who take multivitamins may have a higher risk of breast cancer than those who don’t.  What we don’t know is if there are any other factors in the equation, or if it is in fact the supplements that are increasing the risk of cancer.

What the increase of breast cancer study does show is that multivitamins have a propensity to cause denser breast tissue, which we do know increases the chances of breast cancer.  Links to breast cancer also come from an increase in folic acid, iron, and zinc too, but still more research is needed on this particular claim as well.  It is noteworthy to point out that this study does not make clear if multivitamins increase breast density.

On anther note, multivitamins make it difficult to pinpoint the attributes of the specific vitamins and minerals that are increasing the chances of getting breast cancer because there are so many different elements that make up a multivitamin.

What we can be sure of is that the best source of vitamins should come from eating a balanced diet.  We do know that you do not need a multivitamin if you are getting all your nutrients through the food that you eat.  If you are still not sure, by all means ask your doctor.


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