B Vitamins Cut Cancer Risks

B Vitamins Cut Cancer Risks

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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From The July 2001 Issue of Nutrition Science News

Smokers can reduce their risk of lung and pancreatic cancer by getting sufficient B vitamins, according to two separate reports from the European Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study, which looked at nutritional intake of 27,000 Finnish male smokers aged 50 to 70.

In the first study, Rachael Stolzenberg-Solomon, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., correlated dietary B vitamin intake with pancreatic cancer incidence. Between 1985 and 1993, 157 men developed pancreatic cancer. The initial dietary folate intake of these cancer patients was lower than the healthy men (315 mg compared with 324 mg). Men with folate intake in the top 20 percent had half the rate of pancreatic cancer as those in the bottom 20 percent. No significant association between other B vitamins and pancreatic cancer was found, although a nonsignificant protective association was observed for vitamin B12.

In the second study, Terryl Hartman, Ph.D., at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, conducted a case-control study, matching 300 randomly selected male smokers who developed lung cancer with 300 controls. Serum measurements of B vitamins and homocysteine, high levels of which are a known risk factor for some cancers, were taken at the study's inception in 1985. The results were adjusted for smoking and body-mass index; cancer patients smoked more and weighed less. In both cases and controls, half the men had inadequate serum levels of vitamin B6 (<30 nanomol/L), 90 percent were deficient in folate (<6 nanomol/L), and one-fourth had elevated homocysteine (>15 m mol/L). The most significant finding was that men with initial serum vitamin B6 levels in the top 40 percent of the group had only half the risk of getting lung cancer as the men in the lowest 20 percent. Insufficient dietary vitamin B6 intake was weakly associated with lung cancer. There was no association between the intake of folate and lung cancer or vitamin B6 and pancreatic cancer.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with 172,000 new cases yearly. Pancreatic cancer, usually fatal, is fifth in cancer mortality. These studies show that smokers may be able to reduce by half their cancer risk by consuming adequate B vitamins.

Association of the B-vitamins pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (B(6)), B(12), and Folate with Lung Cancer Risk in Older Men
American Journal of Epidemiology 2001 (Apr 1);   153 (7):   680693

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