It certainly seems like the vitamin world has come under mass attack (more on this in a later post), with accusations flying that vitamins cause heart disease, cancer and maybe even impotence (ok…maybe I didn’t read this one and just threw it in for effect..). But do vitamins really cause cancer?
First of all, we need to cover what a multivitamin (MVM) is not. It is NOT and never has been a replacement for a good quality diet. A MVM is merely an insurance policy to fill in the gaps of nutrient need when diet quality may be a little low for a meal, when stress levels are elevated or even when our body’s exposure to toxins from the environment are high and we need extra help to detoxify.
Many MVM opponents have stated that, with a MVM, you are merely urinating out the vitamins (i.e. making expensive urine). However, consider this. One of the MVM that we offer here at the clinic is particularly high in B vitamins. Riboflavin (B2) is a yellow pigment that can give urine a characteristic glow after taking it in a supplement form. Patients who take this MVM clearly state that it imparts a near glow0in-the-dark color to their urine, but there are days when taken the same number of capsules under the exact same scenarios does NOT lead to urine color changes. What does this mean? That some days our demand for riboflavin is higher than other days. On the higher demand days the riboflavin is used by the body and little is left to show up in the urine.
So, would you rather have normal urine (without a MVM) but not have the riboflavin at high demand times, or would you rather have “expensive urine” but have that extra riboflavin when your body needs it? While we are just using riboflavin as an example, a good quality MVM would obviously expand out on this concept to include many other nutrients.
Understanding this concept, we can envision that a good quality MVM could protect in a multitude of ways, filling in the gaps of short term deficiency whenever needed. There have been many studies over the years that have supported the use of a MVM in chronic disease prevention:
- MVM use results in longer telomeres
- MVM improves mood and behavior in children
- MVM lowers the risk of a heart attack
- MVM lowers inflammation as CRP
It bears mentioning that none of these studies have included an evaluation of the quality of the supplement itself. Factors like dosage (1 / days are generally considered inferior), forms of the vitamins and minerals (carbonates, oxides are not as well absorbed), presence of unwanted chemicals (such as colorings, preservatives or flavorings) and the dosages of the vitamins (real values vs limiting to just the RDA to prevent scurvy and beriberi). It is likely that studies limited to higher quality MVM would produce even better outcomes.
All this being said, this particular study looked at whether certain vitamins and supplements could lower the risk of hematological cancers. Garlic, grape seed extract and MVM were associated with a lower risk (45, 43 and 20% lower risk respectively) of developing these cancers. Not too shabby. So, based on this study, vitamins do not cause cancer, but rather protect against cancer.