NIIM responds to latest Vitamin controversy

Date: 15-01-2013

You may have seen the recent articles in the media: “Vitamins could hinder, not help cancer fight”, by Nick Collins on a research paper written by Jim Watson, which appeared in The Age, page 7, on 10 Jan 2013 as well as online. Here are some links:

The National Institute of Integrative Medicine is concerned that these articles do not fully evaluate the evidence for vitamins and may also be misleading for cancer patients.

We have prepared this media response:

We admire the Nobel-prize winning work by James Watson on the DNA discovery. However, as research scientists and clinicians involved in nutritional therapies for cancer patients for over 40 years, we are concerned that this study does not consider all of the evidence in this area, and may be misleading to many cancer patients.

Director of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine, Professor Avni Sali said, “The majority of scientific data demonstrates a clinical valuable reduction in toxicity of chemotherapy in addition to often improved clinical outcomes when antioxidants are used at the same time as chemotherapy.”1

“A systematic review of 33 studies (out of 965 articles considered) and more than 2400 patients did not find any evidence that antioxidants interfered negatively with chemotherapy”1 Professor Sali said. “In addition, the results of a major study from the American Medical Association (AMA) showed that use of multivitamins containing antioxidants reduced the recurrence of cancer in men by 27% compared to those who weren’t taking multivitamins”.2

“The small number of studies which showed that antioxidant supplements were ineffective, and which Prof Watson is most probably referring to in his article, can generally be explained by the use of synthetic rather than natural antioxidants, such as synthetic Vitamin E. Synthetic Vitamin E has been shown to increase cancer, whereas natural Vitamin E does not”. “At NIIM, we are dedicated to looking at all of the evidence, and providing the best health care advice. In balance, the evidence suggests that Vitamins do have a role to play in the treatment of cancer patients”.

Prof Avni Sali, Director
Dr Karin Ried, Research Director
National Institute of Integrative Medicine, Hawthorn

1 Block KI et al. “Impact of antioxidant supplementation on chemotherapeutic toxicity: a systematic review of the evidence from randomized controlled trials.” Int J Cancer 2008: 123 (6), 1227-1239.

2 Gaziano JM et al. “Multivitamins in the Prevention of Cancer in Men: The Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial.” JAMA (2012): 308 (18), 1871-1880.