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New Government Report: Vitamin Supplements Don’t Help Prevent Cancer

New Task Force Findings Fall In Line with Long-Held AICR Position: Overall Diet is Key to Reducing Risk of Cancer

WASHINGTON – A US government task force has found no evidence that vitamin supplements help reduce risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease. Diet-cancer experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) welcomed the announcement and expressed hope that it will help convince Americans that healthy overall diets, not “magic bullet� pills or powders, are what really count when it comes to cancer.

In a paper published in the July 1 Annals of Internal Medicine, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that people not take beta-carotene supplements to lower their risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease and “recommends neither for nor against taking vitamins A, C or E; multivitamins with folic acid; or combinations of these vitamins for the primary purpose of preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer.�

AICR experts agree, citing their own 1997 AICR Expert Report, Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: a global perspective. That report examined over 4500 studies and found convincing evidence that diets high in a variety of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans lower risk for cancer. The report found no evidence that nutrients in supplement form can lower cancer risk.

But getting Americans to give up their faith in “magic bullets� might prove difficult. In a survey conducted by AICR in 2000, 43 percent of Americans said they take a daily multi-vitamin to reduce their risk of cancer. The belief that vitamin supplements can help prevent cancer seems particularly entrenched among seniors: in the AICR survey, 54 percent of those 65 and older said they take a multi-vitamin to lower their cancer risk.

The same survey also found that Americans are more likely to look to a vitamin bottle for cancer protection (43 percent) than they are to make the kind of overall dietary changes that have been proven to lower risk (39 percent).

“The notion that we can isolate specific substances from a healthy, cancer-fighting diet and expect them to display the same kind of anti-cancer ability is an attractive one, but the science simply doesn’t support it,� said Melanie Polk, RD, AICR Director of Nutrition Education.

In fact, current evidence suggests that a multitude of factors within the diet interact to provide protection against cancer, Polk said. “A single vegetable or fruit may contain many different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that help the body prevent cancer. There is increasing evidence that these substances react with each other in complex ways we are only beginning to understand.�

This is why AICR urges consumption of a varied diet featuring many different plant foods. Although it would be ideal for individuals to get the nutrition they need directly from such a diet, Polk acknowledged that there are some cases where dietary supplements may be necessary.

“Certain groups may benefit their overall health with a daily multivitamin, such as women of childbearing age, women who are pregnant or nursing, seniors and some vegetarians,� she said.

“But people who take vitamin supplements expressly to lower their cancer risk would be better served by steering their grocery cart out of the supplement aisle and heading straight for the produce section.�

Looking for a simple way to get more healthy variety into your diet? Check out AICR’s New American Plate. Visit www.aicr.org and click on “New American Plate� for free tips, recipes and brochures that lay out a healthier, tastier approach to meal-making.

To get a New American Plate brochure delivered to your home, order one online anytime or call 1-800-843-8114, Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:30 Eastern Time.

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The American Institute for Cancer Research is one of the nation’s largest cancer charities. AICR supports research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided over $67 million in funding for cancer research. AICR also provides a wide range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make everyday changes for lower cancer risk. The AICR website is www.aicr.org.