Multivitamin Supplements May Reduce Breast Cancer Mortality

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Issues, Supplements and Health

Can A Multivitamin A Day Keep Breast Cancer At Bay?

 Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

3d rendered illustration - breast cancerA few weeks ago I wrote about soy and breast cancer survival. You’ve probably seen the latest headlines: “Multivitamin Supplements May Reduce Breast Cancer Mortality” and are wondering if they could possibly be true. After all, wasn’t it just a short time ago that the headlines said “Multivitamin supplements have no effect on breast cancer mortality” or that “Multivitamins may increase your risk of death”?

With all the conflicting headlines, you have every right to be skeptical about the latest news. So perhaps we should start with looking at the previous studies and discussing why they disagree.

What do we know about multivitamin use and breast cancer survival?

 Three very large studies have reported no correlation between multivitamin use and breast cancer incidence. So it is pretty clear that multivitamins don’t prevent breast cancer.

However, breast cancer incidence and breast cancer survival are two different things. In the first case you are starting with healthy women and asking how many of them develop cancer. That is what we scientists call a primary prevention study. It is very difficult to prove the effectiveness of any intervention in a primary prevention study. In the second case you are starting with a sick population and asking if an intervention provides a benefit. It is much easier to prove whether or not an intervention is effective in this kind of study.

There, have been several small studies looking at the effect of vitamin supplementation in women who already had breast cancer. While the results have been mixed, the majority of the studies showed that vitamin supplementation did appear to reduce breast cancer recurrence and mortality.

What makes this study different?

The women in this study were part of 161,608 women enrolled the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study to investigate the effects of multivitamin use in post-menopausal women. In fact, this was one of the studies to report no effect of multivitamin use on the incidence of breast cancer (Neuhouser et al, Arch. Intern. Med., 169: 294-304, 2009).

What the present study did was to look at the those women in the WHI who did develop breast cancer during the previous study and followed them for an additional 7.9 years to see if multivitamin use affected breast cancer survival (Wasserthiel-Smoller et al, Breast Cancer Res. Treat., 141: 495-505, 3013).

This is the largest study of its kind (7,728 women). It started with an older and sicker group of women than previous studies.  All of the women were 50-79 years old at the time the study began, and all of them had invasive breast cancer at the time of enrollment into the study.

The results were quite impressive. Multivitamin use improved survival by 30%, and the results were highly significant.

Strengths of the Study:

  • This was a large and very well controlled study. The authors did an excellent job of controlling for confounding variables that might have affected the outcome.
  • Multivitamin use was measured at multiple time points. It was assessed at enrollment into the original WHI study and at each subsequent doctor visit. The multivitamin usage for the purpose of data analysis was the usage at the time of breast cancer diagnosis, but the authors also corrected for any change in vitamin use post-diagnosis.
  • The study was in agreement with the majority of previous studies, further strengthening the conclusion that multivitamin use in women with breast cancer improves the likelihood of survival.

Weaknesses of the Study:

  • Because previous studies have been mixed with respect to the effect of multivitamins on breast cancer survival, further placebo controlled intervention studies will be required before multivitamin use becomes part of the standard of treatment for breast cancer patients.
  • Most of the women in the study were post-menopausal. It is unclear if multivitamins will provide the same benefit to pre-menopausal women with breast cancer.
  • This study measured consistent multivitamin use before and after the diagnosis of breast cancer. It did not look at women who began multivitamin use after diagnosis. So we have no idea whether starting multivitamin use after diagnosis would have also been beneficial.

The Bottom Line:

1)    This study strongly suggests that multivitamin use may help improve your chances of survival if you are unlucky enough to develop breast cancer.  While more studies are still needed, this study certainly strengthens the argument for multivitamin use.

2)    The rap on multivitamins has always been that they aren’t needed by healthy people who have a good diet. However, multivitamins are important for assuring good nutritional status if your diet is not optimal or if you have increased nutritional needs – either because of your genetic makeup or because of illness.

3)    The difficulty is that you usually don’t know if your genetics increases your vitamin needs, and once your disease has progressed far enough to be diagnosed it may be too late to improve disease outcome.  That’s why many experts consider a multivitamin supplement as an inexpensive form of nutritional and health insurance. I concur.

4)    As for the fear that multivitamins might just kill you, that hypothesis has been disproven by several subsequent studies including one published just a couple of weeks ago (Macpherson et al, Am. J. Clin. Nutr., doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.o49304).

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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