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Vitamin A and Cancer - issues and controversies 


Surveys suggest an association between diets rich in beta-carotene and vitamin A and a lower risk of many types of cancer. A higher intake of green and yellow vegetables or other food sources of beta carotene and/or vitamin A may decrease the risk of lung cancer.

However, a number of studies that tested the role of beta-carotene supplements in cancer prevention did not find them to be protective. In the Alpha-Tocopherol Beta-Carotene (ATBC) Cancer Prevention Study, over 29,000 men who regularly smoked cigarettes were randomized to receive 20 mg beta-carotene alone, 50 mg alpha-tocopherol alone, supplements of both, or a placebo for 5 to 8 years. Incidence of lung cancer was 18% higher among men who took the beta-carotene supplement. Mortality was 8% greater in these men, as compared to those receiving other treatments or placebo.

Similar results were seen in the Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), a lung cancer chemoprevention study that provided subjects with supplements of 30 mg beta-carotene and 25,000 IU retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) or a placebo. This study was stopped after researchers discovered that subjects receiving beta-carotene had a 46% higher risk of dying from lung cancer.

The IOM states that "beta-carotene supplements are not advisable for the general population," although they also state that this advice "does not pertain to the possible use of supplemental beta-carotene as a provitamin A source for the prevention of vitamin A deficiency in populations with inadequate vitamin A nutriture".



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