More Health and Nutrition Bites

Should you consume additional protein to help maintain muscle mass? 03/21/18
It's the quality of the carbohydrates that counts 03/14/18
B vitamin supplements linked to lung cancer 03/07/18
Genetically-based weight loss plans 02/28/18
Eating more highly processed foods linked to greater risk of cancer 02/21/18
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'Burning hot' tea linked to esophageal cancer 02/07/18
The paradox of front-of-package labeling 01/31/18
Prevent stomach cancer by drinking green tea 01/24/18
Mediterranean Diet may prevent asthma in children 01/17/18
A clear link between sugary drinks and weight gain 01/10/18
1 more reason to avoid Gestational Diabetes 01/03/18
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Preventing fracture: more evidence against vitamin supplements
Most of the time when we talk about treating or preventing osteoporosis, we focus on building bone, whether it's by taking calcium and Vitamin D supplements or by building stronger bones through weight-bearing exercise. What we don't discuss nearly as often are those risk factors for osteoporosis that have little or nothing to do with the bone mass you created during youth and early adulthood.

The Evidence for Weight Loss Supplements
With the number of overweight and obese adults in the United States estimated to be over 2/3 of the total adult population, it's no surprise that in 2010 US consumers spent an estimated $2.4 billion on weight loss supplements and meal replacements. And it's not all that unusual to be using them, either: in 2008 about 1 in 3 overweight or obese people admitted to at least trying them.

Eat your antioxidants
People often rely on vitamin supplements to make up for their poor diets. This is especially true now that we know that some vitamins, such as antioxidants (vitamins E, C, or beta-carotene) or B vitamins, have been shown in the lab to help prevent such conditions as cancer, heart disease, and high cholesterol. But are the supplements actually having the same impact as a diet that contains more vitamins through diet alone?


Health & Nutrition Bites

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B vitamin supplements linked to lung cancer

capsules spilling from a prescription bottle

No, that's not clickbait: an analysis of data from a large-scale study of long-term dietary supplement use and cancer shows a strong link between long-term consumption of certain B vitamins and the risk of lung cancer (J Clin Oncol 35:3440-3448).

A study known as the VITAL cohort (VITamins And Lifestyle) began recruitment in 2000 in several counties of Washington State in the United States and continued recruitment through 2002, enrolling a total of over 77,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 76. The period used for analysis ended in December of 2007, when the authors assessed the supplement-taking habits of those who developed lung cancer over the course of the study and compared them to those who did not develop lung cancer.

At the start of the study the participants reported their intake of multivitamins, vitamin supplements, and vitamin supplement combinations (such as combinations of B vitamins or antioxidant mixtures of A, C, and E). The study's initial questionnaire established not only which vitamins the participant took regularly, but also for how long. Further questionnaires looked at diet, health history, and cancer risk factors such as smoking and alcohol intake.

For this article the authors focused on three B vitamins: B6, B9 (folic acid), and B12. Using the participants' questionnaires, which asked for specific formulations of these vitamins, the authors could stratify B vitamin intake in increasing levels, from no use of supplements to very high doses taken daily over ten years. (For reference, a moderately high dose of B6 was considered to be 20 milligrams per day: the recommended daily allowance for men over 50 is about 1.7 milligrams per day and for women over 50 is about 1.5 milligrams per day.) In their stratification the authors made certain that those who were simply taking an amount of B vitamins similar to that in a daily multivitamin were not considered to be in the higher levels of intake.

For their analysis of lung cancer risk the authors were careful to take into account smoking status, classifying participants as those who had never smoked, those who had smoked in the past but had quit over 10 years before, those who had quit less than 10 years before, and those who were still smoking. Similarly, they took into account the participants' family history of lung cancer as well as whether the female participants were utilizing hormone therapy for menopause.

The researchers found that although women tended to take higher doses of B vitamins from supplements than men, only men saw increased risk of lung cancer from taking B6 or B12 supplements. When the authors calculated an average 10-year daily dose of B vitamins for the participants, those taking the highest levels of B6 and B12 supplements were as much as 2 and nearly 3 times as likely to develop lung cancer than those who did not take B vitamin supplements at all. When the authors looked at shorter periods of intake, similar bad news applied: men who took individual B6 or B12 supplements had a 40% or 33% increase in risk of lung cancer, respectively.

What this means for you

This research supports the notion that vitamins are best sourced from food, not supplements. Good dietary sources of vitamin B6 include garbanzo beans (chickpeas), fatty fish like tuna or salmon, fortified cereals, and even bananas. Sources for B12 also include fortified cereals as well as clams, trout, salmon and tuna, milk, and eggs. Here are some tuna and salmon recipes so you can get your B vitamins without taking pills:
Salmon with Poblano Sauce
Salmon with Caper Mayonnaise
Saffron Tuna Noodle Casserole
Tuna Caprese Salad
See all of our easy fish recipes! »

First posted: March 7, 2018