Vitamins and Breast Cancer

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Vitamins and Breast Cancer

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October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Before it is over, I want to be sure that you know what studies have been showing about the protective effects of vitamins in women diagnosed with breast cancer. If you’re familiar with “The Omni Diet”, you know that I recommend that everyone take a multivitamin/mineral supplement daily. I view these supplements as backup for your body to ensure that you’re getting the standard dose of nutrients we all need every day. Do these supplements really help women with breast cancer?

Here’s what a big new study found: of the more than 160,000 women participating, the ones who developed breast cancer and were taking daily vitamins and minerals were 30 percent less likely to die of the disease than were women who didn’t take daily vitamins/minerals.

These results “show that there was a protective effect,” said study leader Sylvia Wassertheil- Smoller, Ph.D., of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York in news reports. She explained that “almost all of these women were taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement before they developed breast cancer, so it’s not like we’re saying that once you get breast cancer, you should take multivitamins.”

True, this study was observational in nature, meaning that it can only suggest an association between taking multivitamins and breast cancer outcome. As Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller explained, the women participating were taking no specific vitamin formulation. To prove beyond a doubt that multivitamins made the difference here we would need a clinical trial comparing breast cancer outcome in women who all took the same multivitamin/mineral formula and those who took none. The study results were published on line in October 2013 by the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Don’t Forget “D”

The apparent protective power of multivitamins in breast cancer patients lends support to results of an earlier study showing that the disease is more likely to recur among women whose blood levels of vitamin D are low. Here, researchers found that low levels of “D” in breast cancer patients were associated with spread of the disease to the bone or to distant sites in the body. The results of this study were presented at a medical conference in San Antonio, TX in December 2012 and led some experts to suggest that doctors routinely check their patients’ vitamin D status.

The results of both of these studies are not likely to be the last words on whether or not multivitamins or vitamin D have an important role to play in breast cancer survival. But they are provocative enough to pique scientific curiosity and compelling enough to suggest that we would all be better off getting the full complement of vitamins and minerals. For the record, low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with a long list of health problems including depression, autism, psychosis, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes as well as several kinds of cancer. To find out if your vitamin D blood levels are low, ask your doctor for the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, which is more accurate than other vitamin D tests.

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