James Researcher’s Prevention Focus Finds Vitamin B – Cancer Link
There are many routes to a cancer-free world.
“When we talk about beating and ending cancer, one of the most important ways is through prevention,” said Theodore Brasky, PhD. “And, as an epidemiologist, that’s where my focus is directed.”
Brasky is member of the nationally recognized Division of Cancer Prevention and Control of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
He has devoted his career, and his research, to finding links to cancer and preventative strategies. Brasky has looked at links between anti-inflammatory drugs, tobacco and, most recently, vitamins and supplements, such as vitamins B6 and B12, and cancer rates.
Taking large, daily doses of vitamins B6 and B12—often taken in attempts to boost energy—appears to increase the lung cancer risk for men who smoke.
“The increased risk of developing lung cancer in smokers who take large amounts of vitamin B6 over several years is about three-fold,” Brasky said, adding that his large-scale study with colleagues from the OSUCCC – James, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Taipei, Taiwan, found an almost four-fold increase for male smokers who take large amounts of B12 over several years. There didn’t seem to be an increased risk for women.
“[The link] is like a double whammy, because the increased risk for male smokers as compared to non-smokers is already over 15-fold,” he said.
There will be an estimated 223,000 lung-cancer diagnoses in the United States in 2017 and about 156,000 deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Brasky is a precise scientist, and is careful to use the words such as “possible” and “could” when discussing the link between B vitamins and lung cancer. His recent study was the first of its kind and looked at more than 75,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 76. Each participant filled out a detailed questionnaire about his or her use of a wide range of supplements and vitamins, and was then tracked over several years.
“We looked at people who didn’t have a history of lung cancer, and were then able to correlate the use of vitamins with the occurrence of lung cancer,” Brasky said.
More research and more studies of large populations of vitamin B6 and B12 users are needed before Brasky is ready to definitively say there is an increased risk of lung cancer. But the initial study indicates, “[Heavy] vitamin B use over a long period of time could either be feeding a tumor that already exists or could even jump start the process of developing a tumor in the lungs among male smokers.”
This is how epidemiologists work: slowly and carefully, over long periods of time. This is the process that definitively determined many years ago that smoking causes lung cancer.
A recent study conducted by epidemiologists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that, “If people in the U.S. adopted a healthy lifestyle—not smoking, drinking in moderation, maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly—half of all cancer deaths and close to half of all cancer diagnoses could potentially be prevented.”
Electronic cigarettes, or e-Cigarettes, are relatively new, as is research on their effects on the lungs. Brasky is a member of The Ohio State University’s Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science. In his research with colleagues from the center, he is looking “at how e-cigs might affect people’s health, especially lung cancer patients… and how or if they reduce or cease the use of combustible cigarettes in lung cancer patients.”
Brasky also has plans for a follow-up study on the effects of vitamins B6 and B12.
And, he has some good overall advice when it comes to the use of supplements and vitamins. It’s difficult to say definitively whether any particular supplement or vitamin is bad for a person, as more research is needed.
“However, every epidemiologist will tell you: We’d prefer it if you get your nutrients from food,” he said, adding there is no need to take supplements and vitamins. “All you need to do is eat a healthy, balanced diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and exercise and don’t smoke.”
There is one exception to his rule: “If your physician says you are deficient in a certain area and recommends you take a certain vitamin or supplement.”
Brasky follows his own advice. He eats a healthy diet and has become an avid cyclist and Pelotonia rider. He often commutes to work by bike.
“I’ve got two adorable kids and I want to see them grow up in a cancer-free world,” he said. “It’s a dream worth realizing, and prevention is one of the keys.”