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March 3, 2008
SEATTLE—Vitamin E may increase the risk of lung cancer, according to a recent study of more than 77,000 vitamin users out of the University of Washington (Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2008;177:524-530.). A prospective cohort of 77,126 men and women between 50 and 76 years old were selected for the VITAL (VITamins and Lifestyle) study. Of the original cohort, 521 developed lung cancer. In addition to the associations with smoking history, family history and age, there was a slight but significant association between use of supplemental vitamin E and lung cancer. When modeled continuously, the increased risk was equivalent to a 7 percent rise for every 100 mg/d.
In response to the VITAL study, Judy Blatman, vice president of communications for the Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN), commented: “It’s always unfortunate and unfair to consumers when headlines don’t accurately reflect what a study actually demonstrated. The results of the study were clearly not placed in the proper context. Vitamin E was the only vitamin studied that showed any potential concern, and in that case, there was a benefit that seems to have been ignored. There was a reduction in lung cancer risk observed with modest doses of vitamin E—somewhere between 40 and 200 mg/d, which is very difficult to achieve through diet alone, potentially indicating the need for vitamin E supplementation to help reduce the risk of lung cancer. The study clearly states that the risk of supplemental vitamin E and increased risk of lung cancer was largely confined to current smokers. The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking. In addition, we need to get beyond researchers exclaiming, and the press repeating, that because a study doesn’t show a benefit there is conclusive evidence that no benefit exists. How can we realistically expect vitamin E or any other nutrient in isolation to prevent cancer? But that doesn’t close the door for the need to take multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate in combination with other healthy lifestyle choices for a myriad of important health reasons.”
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