Taking vitamin A and E supplements does not lower your risk of getting cancer, according to an authoritative new study.
The antioxidant vitamins are known to help fight free radicals, which cause cell damage that can lead to cancer, but new research suggests they are ineffective at preventing the disease when taken in pill form. The study involved 14,641 male doctors, all aged 50 or over, who were split into four groups and given regular doses of vitamin A, E, both, or placebos.
Over eight years the cancer rates were similar for each of the groups. Even rates of prostate cancer, which many had hoped vitamin E would prevent, were unaffected by the supplements.
Howard Sesso, of the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who led the Physicians Heath Study, said: "The lack of an effect that we observe for vitamin E or C on cancer does convince us that these particular doses that we tested really have no role for recommendation for cancer prevention."
Marji McCullough, of the American Cancer Society, said that patients should get their nutrients from eating fruits, vegetables and grains, rather than taking pills.
"Well-conducted clinical trials such as this are rapidly closing the door on the hope that common vitamin supplements may protect against cancer," she said.
"It's still possible that some benefit exists for subgroups that couldn't be measured, but the overall results are certainly discouraging."
Earlier this year a report from the Copenhagen University Hospital found that taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamins A and E may actually increase mortality.