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Lower Vitamin C Means Higher Cancer Risk for Men

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For example, in this study prostate cancer was responsible for only 7% of the cancer mortality in men, while breast cancer caused 20% of the cancer deaths in women. On the other hand, lung and other cancers of the respiratory tract produced 47% of the cancer mortality in men, compared to 19% in women.

Death from heart disease also was high in men with the lowest vitamin C levels, but that increase disappeared when other heart disease risk factors were taken into account.

These data "seem to say there's an effect on mortality" when the intake of vitamin C and, possibly other vitamins, is low, says Gail Frank, RD, DrPh, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

When people improve their diets, "these types of articles tell us there's a payoff," Frank says. But "doing megadoses of a single vitamin is not the way [to address the situation]," she warns, because it could alter the way the body metabolizes the vitamin. "What we do have in common with two decades ago [when the data were first collected] is the number of servings of fruits and vegetables we have coming in. That has not changed. I continue to be concerned that in the adult population we have not increased our intake of the recommended five servings a day." Frank is a professor of nutrition at California State University in Long Beach.

"Recent surveys suggest that most people [still] aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables, including children, and that's alarming," says nutritionist Ruth Frechman, RD, who reviewed the paper for WebMD. "When my clients go to the grocery store, I suggest that they try [a fruit or vegetable] they've never had before. I also urge them to go to local farmers' markets" to sample locally grown produce. Frechman is a nutrition counselor in Burbank, Calif., and spokeswoman for the California Dietetic Association. Neither she nor Frank was involved in the study.

Loria agrees. "These findings are consistent with dietary guidelines to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Otherwise, people are potentially at risk of developing some chronic diseases," she says. She recommends getting vitamins from foods rather than supplements because food "has many other nutrients, as well as fiber. Certainly, the best approach is to eat a healthy diet."

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