by Marion Nestle
Oct 23 2012

Multivitamins prevent cancer (maybe), sell supplements (definitely)

According to a new study in JAMA, multivitamins might reduce the risk of some cancers, although not by much.

But even a tiny benefit, restricted to skin cancers in healthy male doctors—but not prostate cancers, alas—is good news for the supplement industry.  Supplement sellers are eager to make sure you don’t miss this research.

The study results came out on October 18.  Pfizer, the maker of the Centrum Silver pills used in the study, placed this ad in the New York Times on October 19:

But that’s not all.  CVS pharmacy sent me this personal e-mail message:

Pfizer, of course, could not be happier.

Why do I think this is about marketing, not public health?

Comments

  • Julie
  • October 23, 2012
  • 12:23 pm

I wonder what the results of the study could have been had they used high quality food-based multivitamins instead of cheap synthetic ones???

It it is about marketing. Marketers use research to substantiate their claims and to position their credibility. There are so many studies out there but we don’t talk enough about the the viability of the study itself. Such as the size of the study and or the segmented profiles of the people who participated in the clinical trials. These are details not reported in advertising…

  • DA
  • October 23, 2012
  • 1:32 pm

The results from this study appear to be driven by the effect shown by vitamins in the 1300+ men who had a history of cancer at enrollment. The results in the 13,000+ men who were cancer free were merely suggestive and not significant.

  • Sarah
  • October 23, 2012
  • 4:21 pm

Presumably you’ve seen this:
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/snake-oil-supplements/

Although cranberry juice has taken a dip since the latest revision.

People who take multivitamins probably engage in other behaviors that might benefit health. No study can rule out all of these factors that might influence the results. Until this is replicated (and perhaps a mechanism of actions is shown) I am not buying it.

  • Chris
  • October 30, 2012
  • 11:46 am

Judy, this was not a questionnaire. This was a controlled study where some were randomly given the vitamin supplement and others got a placebo. So the other factors you mentioned would not come into play.

I think the study is a pretty big deal but certainly not the last word.

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