Vitamins and cancer prevention: issues and dilemmas.
Young VR, Newberne PM.
Vitamins are a class of organic compounds that are components of an adequate diet. They or their derivatives function as coenzymes, cellular antioxidants, and/or regulators of gene expression. Fourteen vitamins are recognized in human nutrition (Vitamins A, D, E, K, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, niacin, folacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, choline), with deficiencies or excesses in intake leading to changes in protein, nucleic acid, carbohydrates, fat and/or mineral metabolism. Thus, the integrity of physiological systems, including those associated with detoxification, cellular repair, immune processes, and neural and endocrine function, depends upon the nutritional and vitamin status of the host. For these reasons, it may be anticipated that the adequacy of the vitamin supply to cells and tissues would affect the development, progress, and outcome of cancers. In this review, the definition and functions of and requirements and recommended allowance for vitamins are discussed briefly before exploring the evidence, largely from studies in experimental animals, that indicates the nature of the link between vitamins and cancer. Although evidence based on studies in animal systems reveals that vitamin intake and status can modulate the outcome of experimental carcinogenesis, the findings are often conflicting and difficult to interpret. Furthermore, it is not yet possible to develop a suitable prediction of the role of the individual vitamins in tumor development. The significance of these observations for human nutrition and cancer prevention, particularly in reference to ascorbic acid (vitamin C), vitamin E, and B-complex vitamins is considered. Vitamin A and retinoid compounds are discussed elsewhere in the symposium. The many popular misconceptions and unsound advice concerning vitamins and health, including “fake” vitamins-pangamic acid (“vitamin B15”) and laetrile (“vitamin B17”)-are also discussed. On the basis of current evidence, it would be inappropriate to recommend either substantial changes in habitual vitamin intakes, as provided by an adequate, well-balanced diet, or promotion of megavitamin intakes, as a means of reducing risk from cancers in the human population. However, a prudent approach toward diet and food habits, as a means of better optimizing the health consequences of our complex lifestyle is to be recommended.