B Vitamins May Help Protect Older Women Against Breast Cancer and More

The B vitamins folic acid, B6 and B12 are increasingly being looked at for their potential health benefits. Now, new findings from a large study of women have killed the buzz with overall disappointing results, but the news was actually encouraging for older women.

These latest findings come from the Women’s Antioxidant and Folic Acid Cardiovascular Study. In the study, more than 5,000 women over the age of 42 took supplemental B vitamins (2,500 micrograms of folic acid, 50 milligrams of vitamin B6 and 1 milligram of vitamin B12) in hopes of reducing cancer risk. But after seven years, those taking the supplements were no less likely to develop cancer than those who took placebos.

However, when the Harvard researchers zeroed in on participants older than 65, a different picture emerged. The older women’s risk was significantly reduced (by 25%) for invasive cancer of any kind, but especially for breast cancer (38% less risk).

Why Bs May Be Best. This isn’t the first study to find a link between B vitamins and cancer in postmenopausal women. It makes sense that B vitamins might be protective, because these vitamins are important for maintaining DNA and regulating genes. Moreover, older people have higher requirements for B vitamins, so perhaps increasing their intake creates healthier cells less prone to cancer.

Should You Bust Out the B’s? Despite the promising findings, it’s premature to start pumping up your intake of B vitamins. True, the doses used in the study were far above what you could get in your diet and even more than what’s normally found in a multivitamin. But caution needs to prevail, especially for folic acid, which has been found to both prevent and promote tumor formation, especially in younger women, depending on when in the cancer process it’s taken.

EN‘s Advice. High-dose supplements of folic acid are not warranted, especially considering all the fortified foods you may already be eating. The findings do suggest, however, eating plenty of foods rich in B vitamins, such as lean beef, low-fat milk, orange juice, dark green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, lentils and beans. The folate form of folic acid that’s found in foods has not proven to be of harm.

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