Vitamin supplement found to raise risk of lung cancer – ‘important’

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MANY people choose to take vitamin supplements. Barring certain underlying conditions, you should get all the nutrients and vitamins you need through a healthy, balanced diet. Increasing evidence suggests this is not only more beneficial but also safer.

Research found beta carotene supplementation increased incidence of lung cancer in smokers.

The finding has been consistent enough for the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) – an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine – to update its guidance on supplementation.

Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour. It’s turned into vitamin A in the body, so it can perform the same jobs in the body as vitamin A.

To update its 2014 recommendation, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) commissioned a review of the evidence on the efficacy of supplementation with single nutrients, functionally related nutrient pairs, or multivitamins for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality in the general adult population, as well as the harms of supplementation.

For many of the vitamins and nutrients reviewed, there was little evidence of serious harms.

However, an important harm of increased lung cancer incidence was reported with the use of beta carotene by persons who smoke tobacco or have occupational exposure to asbestos.

Numerous studies have found this link. A study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research sought to build on the existing evidence.

Researchers examined whether the increased risk associated with beta carotene supplementation in smokers varies by the tar or nicotine content of cigarettes.

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A randomised, double-blind intervention trial was conducted on 29, 133 male smokers in southwest Finland.

A double blind study is a randomised clinical trial in which you as the patient don’t know if you’re receiving the experimental treatment, a standard treatment or a placebo, and your doctor doesn’t know. It’s regarded as the “gold standard” of study designs.

Researchers found the beta carotene supplementation group had significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer in all categories of tar content.

“These findings support the conclusion that supplementation with β-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers regardless of the tar or nicotine content of cigarettes smoked,” they concluded.

“Our data suggest that all smokers should continue to avoid β-carotene supplementation.”

The NHS echoes this warning, stating that “beta-carotene supplements have been found to increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or have been heavily exposed to asbestos at work”.

Asbestos exposure can cause two main forms of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

What does the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) advise?

“You should be able to get the amount of beta-carotene you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.”

According to the DHSC, If you decide to take beta-carotene supplements, it’s important not to take too much as this could be harmful.

“Do not take more than 7mg of beta-carotene supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor,” the health body warns.

The main sources of beta-carotene are:

  • Yellow and green (leafy) vegetables – such as spinach, carrots and Red peppers
  • Yellow fruit – such as mango, papaya and apricots.

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