Background: It has been suggested that a low dietary intake of antioxidant vitamins and minerals increases the incidence rate of cardiovascular disease and cancer. To date, however, the published results of randomized, placebo-controlled trials of supplements containing antioxidant nutrients have not provided clear evidence of a beneficial effect. We tested the efficacy of nutritional doses of supplementation with a combination of antioxidant vitamins and minerals in reducing the incidence of cancer and ischemic cardiovascular disease in the general population.
Methods: The Supplementation en Vitamines et Mineraux Antioxydants (SU.VI.MAX) study is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled primary prevention trial. A total of 13 017 French adults (7876 women aged 35-60 years and 5141 men aged 45-60 years) were included. All participants took a single daily capsule of a combination of 120 mg of ascorbic acid, 30 mg of vitamin E, 6 mg of beta carotene, 100 mug of selenium, and 20 mg of zinc, or a placebo. Median follow-up time was 7.5 years.
Results: No major differences were detected between the groups in total cancer incidence (267 [4.1%] for the study group vs 295 [4.5%] for the placebo group), ischemic cardiovascular disease incidence (134 [2.1%] vs 137[2.1%]), or all-cause mortality (76 [1.2%] vs 98 [1.5%]). However, a significant interaction between sex and group effects on cancer incidence was found (P = .004). Sex-stratified analysis showed a protective effect of antioxidants in men (relative risk, 0.69 [95% confidence interval [CI], 0.53-0.91]) but not in women (relative risk, 1.04 [95% CI, 0.85-1.29]). A similar trend was observed for all-cause mortality (relative risk, 0.63 [95% CI, 0.42-0.93] in men vs 1.03 [95% CI, 0.64-1.63] in women; P = .11 for interaction).
Conclusions: After 7.5 years, low-dose antioxidant supplementation lowered total cancer incidence and all-cause mortality in men but not in women. Supplementation may be effective in men only because of their lower baseline status of certain antioxidants, especially of beta carotene.