"Vitamins linked to breast cancer" (What?!!)

Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 06:56 pm
I just read this in my morning paper (after having taken a muti-vitamin pill with my breakfast Neutral ).

The newspaper is usually a reliable source of information, though I find this article maddeningly short on details, after such a worrying claim.

So multi-vitamin pills "significantly increases the density of breast tissue, a strong risk factor for breast cancer"?

How seriously should we take such claims?

Any further information from any of you "experts" out there would be much appreciated.

Vitamins linked to breast cancer
April 18, 2010 - 9:07AM/the AGE

A major study has revealed that women who take a daily multi-vitamin pill are nearly 20 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer.

The shock finding has rattled Australia's $2.5 billion complementary health industry, which is urging consumers not to panic, according to News Ltd reports.

In a 10-year study of more than 35,000 women, researchers discovered those who regularly took a multi-vitamin pill increased the risk of developing a tumour by 19 per cent.

They said the result was concerning and needed investigation as many women use multi-vitamins in the belief they prevent chronic diseases such as cancer. A "biologically plausible" explanation is that taking vitamin and mineral supplements significantly increases the density of breast tissue, a strong risk factor for breast cancer. Folic acid, often present in a potent form in multi-vitamins, may also accelerate tumour growth.

The study, conducted by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has been greeted with interest and caution by Australian experts. Women who took a multi-vitamin pill in the study had higher breast tissue density than those who took no vitamin supplements.

"Results from this prospective study suggest that the use of multivitamins may increase the risk of breast cancer," the lead author of the study, Susanna Larrson, said.


Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 07:00 pm
I am no doctor or researcher. I do believe from several years of reading that the medical people try to discourage vitamin taking almost as much as they do alternative healing methods. Many people believe researchers cherry pick the results, or even cancel research projects that do not go according to their wishes.
Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 07:04 pm
This is what Wikipedia has to say about the Karolinska Institutet, whose research findings were the source of the article:

Karolinska Institutet

Karolinska Institutet (often translated from Swedish into English as the Karolinska Institute, and in older texts often as the Royal Caroline Institute) is one of Europe's largest medical universities.

It was founded in 1810 on Kungsholmen island on the west side of Stockholm. Its main campus was moved decades later and located in Solna, just outside Stockholm, and a second campus more recently in Flemingsberg/Huddinge south of Stockholm.

A committee of the institute appoints the laureates for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. ...<cont>

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Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 07:09 pm
This is the first such claim I've come across about possible links between vitamin pills & cancer, edgar.

Really hard to know what to make of it.

The institute does sound "reputable" & not some sort of crank organisation, though. So who knows? Confused
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Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 07:20 pm
Here's a link to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which published the findings, according to the AGE article.

At first glance I can't find an article referring to the research findings.


I have to go out now, but will take a closer look later in the day.
Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 08:07 pm
Here is a finding from 2008


The New York Times
May 15, 2008, 2:26 pm

Multivitamins Linked With Breast Density
Breast density, which is increasingly used as a marker of breast cancer risk, is associated with the use of multivitamins, a new study shows.

Regular mammograms may be especially important in women with dense breasts. (Mary Haggerty/The New York Times)The report, published this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, raises questions about advice routinely given to women to take a multivitamin. However, because the study is not a randomized clinical trial, it’s not clear if multivitamin use contributes to a woman’s breast density. It may be that the type of woman who takes multivitamins is more likely to have other risks factors linked to dense breasts.

Breast density describes the relative amount of different tissues present in the breast. A dense breast has less fat than glandular and connective tissue. On a mammogram, a dense breast looks mostly white, whereas a fatty breast looks dark gray.

Numerous studies have shown that breast density is an important breast cancer risk factor, and women with extreme density may have a two- to six-fold increased risk of breast cancer. In addition to its role in breast cancer risk, breast density makes it difficult to identify cancer on a mammogram, potentially increasing the risk that cancer will be diagnosed at a later stage.

The latest study, from Quebec researchers, studied multivitamin use among nearly 1,600 women, half of whom had not yet reached menopause. About 22 percent of the women used multivitamin and mineral supplements, and use was almost evenly distributed among women who had or had not reached menopause. Premenopausal women who were currently using multivitamin and mineral supplements had, on average, about 5 percent more breast density than women who had never taken multivitamins, a finding that was statistically meaningful. There were no statistically meaningful differences among those who did or did not use multivitamins after menopause.

The findings don’t mean that women using multivitamins should stop taking them, particularly if their doctors have prescribed the supplements. However, women with dense breasts should be aware of it and seek regular mammograms and possibly additional ultrasound scans. A recent study showed that using ultrasound with mammography helped doctors spot significantly more breast cancers in high-risk women with dense breasts but also resulted in four times as many false alarms

So, the possible link between breast cancer and multivitamins was noted two years ago. The vitamins might increase breast density, and a higher degree of breast density is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. I really don't recall hearing too much about it at that time.

Here's another article on the more recent Swedish study


Could Multivitamins Raise Breast Cancer Risk?
Tuesday , March 30, 2010

Many people take multivitamins in the hopes of thwarting disease, but a new study finds that older women who use multivitamins may be more likely than non-users to develop breast cancer.

The study, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, points only to an association between multivitamin use and breast cancer. It does not prove that the supplements directly contribute to the disease.

However, the researchers say, it's biologically plausible that multivitamins could have such an effect, and the potential link "merits further investigation."

The findings come from a decade-long study of more than 35,000 Swedish women who were between the ages of 49 and 83 and cancer-free at the outset. Over an average of 10 years, 974 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Researchers found that women who reported multivitamin use at the study's start were 19 percent more likely than non-users to develop breast cancer. That was with factors like age, family history of breast cancer, weight, fruit and vegetable intake, and exercise, smoking and drinking habits taken into account.

Still, the large majority of multivitamin users did not develop breast cancer during the study period. Of 9,017 users, 293 were diagnosed with the disease, as were 681 women among the 26,000-plus who did not use multivitamins.

And while the study points to a generally higher risk of breast cancer among multivitamin users as a whole, the risks to any individual woman would likely be small.

"If the association is causal, using multivitamins would have a modest effect on breast cancer risk for any one woman," lead researcher Dr. Susanna C. Larsson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told Reuters Health in an email.

But given the widespread use of multivitamins, any potential risks are of "great public health importance," the researchers say.

In the U.S., for example, it's estimated that half of adults routinely use a dietary supplement, often a multivitamin. And studies show that one of the primary motivations is the belief that supplements will protect them from chronic diseases.

But a recent study of more than 160,000 older U.S. women found that over eight years, those who took multivitamins were no less likely than non-users to die of heart disease or cancer, with all cancers lumped together in a group.

The current study included more than 35,000 women who were surveyed about their multivitamin use, as well as a number of other health and lifestyle factors. It's possible, according to Larsson, that factors the study did not measure could explain the association between multivitamins and breast cancer.

On the other hand, there are biologically plausible reasons that multivitamins themselves could be to blame, the researcher said. A recent study found that among premenopausal women, multivitamin users tended to have greater breast density than non-users " meaning the breasts have relatively less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. Greater breast density is linked to a relatively higher risk of breast cancer.

It's not clear from that study, however, whether multivitamins themselves somehow boost breast density.

Another possibility, according to Larsson's team, could be the B vitamin folic acid, which animal research has linked to breast cancer. Human studies, however, have come to various conclusions; while one found a higher risk of breast cancer among women who took folic acid supplements, others have linked the vitamin to either no effect on breast cancer risk, or a decreased risk.

Since multivitamins are, by definition, a mix of vitamins and minerals, it is difficult to pinpoint which nutrient, of combination of nutrients, may be particularly tied to breast cancer risk, the researchers point out.

Until more is known, a woman's best bet is to get her vitamins and minerals from a well-balanced diet rather than pills, Larsson advised.

"If you eat a healthy and varied diet," she said, "there is no need to use multivitamins."

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online March 24, 2010.

I'm not convinced that my daily multivitamin pill is harmful. It may be needless, but I think I'll continue to take it anyway. I do believe it can help to prevent certain deficiencies, particularly in older people, and I think that is important.
Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 08:58 pm
How does a woman know if her breasts are dense?
Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 09:05 pm
Mammogram folk will likely tell you...they are harder to x ray.
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Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 09:21 pm
Well, it appears to have passed for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Now will come the process of others pulling apart the methodology etc.

I am aware that the current thinking is that dense breast tissue increases risk for breast cancer (one of my friends sees a leading researcher for her ongoing care after two breast tumours) so, if taking some vitamins DOES increase breast tissue density, that is a plausible risk.
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Reply Sat 17 Apr, 2010 09:22 pm
Taking of vitamins has been linked to shorter life span in several studies.

I am not able to comment on the robustness of the experimental design.
Taking certain vitamin supplements may adversely affect people's lifespan, researchers have suggested.

Millions worldwide use antioxidant supplements such as vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene.

Looking at dozens of previous studies, Copenhagen University researchers suggested these appeared to raise, not lower, the risk of early death.
The Copenhagen team reviewed more than 815 clinical trials into the benefits of vitamins A, E, and C, alongside beta-carotene and selenium - all commonly-used supplements.

They selected 68 whose methods were more likely to produce an accurate picture of vitamin benefits, then added their results together to form one, large-scale study.

This overview suggested that taking antioxidant supplements neither increased, nor reduced, the risk of early death.

However, when the researchers eliminated a further 21 trials which had a slightly higher possibility of producing a skewed result, the picture changed considerably.

While the risk of death was unchanged among selenium and vitamin C users, a statistically significant increase in risk emerged for the other three supplements.

Beta-carotene produced an approximate 7% increased risk, vitamin E a 4% increase and vitamin A, a 16% increase.

The researchers wrote: "Our findings contradict the findings of observational studies claiming that antioxidants improve health.

"Considering that 10% to 20% of the adult population in Europe and North America may consume the supplements, the public health consequences may be substantial."

They said there were several different explanations for this increase in risk - and suggested that knocking out 'free radicals' might actually interfere with a natural defence mechanism within the body.

The team called for more research into the effects of vitamin supplements on health.

Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 01:38 am
Thank you very much for that information, firefly.
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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 01:53 am
Thank you, too, Deb.

This is very interesting!
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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 06:18 am
I've distrusted vitamins for a long time. I try to get what I need through food rather than through supplements. I'm not sure how scientific my distrust is -- at least some of it is based on things I've read though I'm not sure I'd be able to find it back.

Will be interested in what ends up happening with this study (upheld or not).
Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 07:47 am
What soz said. I stopped taking vitamins (other than an occasional zinc/vit c combo in late autumn) about 25 years ago.
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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 09:15 am
I have a similar reaction to Soz and ehBeth from similar reading over the years. I suppose I should have my vitamin D measured one of these days.
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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 09:31 am
I have seldom taken them. I am on the side of a balanced diet. That said, I know how difficult balancing a diet can be when your hours are long and you are over committed.
Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 10:21 am
I take a multivitamin plus other supplements--fish oil, calcium with Vit. D, Vit.C and, sometimes, Vit. E, CQ10 and a vit. B complex.

I eliminated a daily Vit.E supplement after reading about some negative effects. But, more recent research does suggest some benefit from added Vit E, so I do sometimes take it 2 or 3 times a week. Although I try to eat a healthy and balanced diet, I really can't manage to get enough Vit. E from diet alone.

I find Vit.B complex, in moderate high potency doses, does help to reduce my back pain. My orthopedist agreed it could help with nerve pain, and suggested I continue with it.

Vit. C helps with my tendency to bruise easily. As an added benefit, I think, I really never get a cold.

Fish oil is the only supplement recommended by the American Heart Association. It has many benefits, and I just can't eat that much fish on a daily basis. CQ10 is also supposed to have benefits for the heart. I do find I have more energy when I take it.

Calcium I take to help prevent osteoporosis, although I do try to drink milk and eat reduced fat cheese as well. Without the supplements, I would not be getting enough daily calcium from diet alone.

It is almost impossible to get an adequate supply of Vit. D year round where I live. Even in the summer, I don't spend that much time in sunlight, and, when I do, I put sun screen on, so that blocks Vit D. absorption. They are now recommending Vit. D supplements to insure at least about 1000-1200 units a day.

I also think that aging affects one's needs for certain supplements. They do suggest certain supplements more often for seniors than for younger adults. My multivitamin, which is formulated for senior women, does contain amounts of certain substances which are beneficial in protecting against macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in older people.

I tend to be sensible about which supplements I'm taking, and why I'm taking them. Most of the additional vitamin supplements I take are water soluble, so my body will just excrete what I don't use.

I don't expect these supplements to prevent heart disease or cancer. I'm really taking most of them to prevent deficiencies, or to provide other benefits, I can't control by diet alone.

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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 10:23 am
Vitamins are as far as I have read rather complicated.
If you take too much C-vitamins they will kill the A-vitamins or something like that.
There are other vitamins, which are useless without the combination of another one. Also if you get too many vitamins they will just disapear and not stay in the body for later use.
I am not sure that taking multi vitamins is that good as you have no control over how much vitamins you get from your normal balanced food. If you get anough A vitamins from your food the A vitamins in the multi vitamin pill is of no use what so ever. Getting to many C-vitamins are not good either.
Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 11:03 am
I've read all these same articles at different times in my life, so don't take any at all except Vitamin C. May, in fact, take too many but it totally eliminates the allergies I seem to have to cool, damp, moldy-feeling weather. I've read that should you need it, only the amount needed stays in the body.

Both my husband and I cook, so we get most vitamins from the different meals we eat. Should one of us be gone, and one is left to carry on, I don't think either of us would be eating very healthy. People say we are opposites and in our case that has been mostly a positive thing.
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Reply Sun 18 Apr, 2010 11:03 am
The amounts of each vitamin in a multivitamin supplement tend to be rather small. They are based on minimum daily requirements--the absolute minimum you need to prevent deficiency. Anything you would additionally consume in a normal diet wouldn't give you an excess of anything.

It's generally the minerals you have to take in balance (calcium/magnesium, sodium/potassium, etc), an excess of one can lead to a deficiency of the other. But that's true whether you get those minerals through food or through diet. An excess of spinach in the diet, for instance, can contribute to a deficiency of calcium, because spinach is high in magnesium.

Too much Vit. C is just excreted from the body in the urine. It doesn't interfere with other vitamins. I'm not sure any of the vitamins interfere with each other, except for the numerous B vitamins. They should be taken in balance, all of the B vitamins at one time. If you load up on one B vitamin, you can create deficiencies of other B vitamins.

Some things, like enough Vit. D, you really cannot get from food alone. The main source is sunlight. But, too much time in the sun exposes you to a risk of skin cancer (and also causes wrinkles:)). And the position of the earth to the sun, for most of the year where I live, would not provide an adequate level of Vit. D anyway. The original minimum daily requirement of Vit. D was based on the minimum needed to prevent rickets. More recently, scientific thinking about Vit. D has changed a great deal. The body needs Vit. D for a great many reasons, not just strong bones and teeth. From what I've been reading, they are now suggesting Vit. D supplements for everyone in the U.S..

I think the problems come from people who are not well informed, and load up on things like Vit. A, or beta-carotene, which can have toxic or harmful effects. Vitamin and mineral supplements aren't completely harmless--people should be informed, understand how much to take, and why they are taking it. But, look at all the harmful junk people consume in their diets. Some people aren't sensible.

I wouldn't really suggest that other people take the supplements I do. I'm taking what I think is beneficial for me.
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