Background: Epidemiologic evidence indicates that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of several cancers, including cancers of the esophagus and stomach. Vitamins and minerals in these foods may contribute to the reduced cancer risk. The people of Linxian County, China, have one of the world's highest rates of esophageal/gastric cardia cancer and a persistently low intake of several micronutrients.
Purpose: We sought to determine if dietary supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals can lower mortality from or incidence of cancer as well as mortality from other diseases in Linxian.
Methods: Individuals of ages 40-69 were recruited in 1985 from four Linxian communes. Mortality and cancer incidence during March 1986-May 1991 were ascertained for 29,584 adults who received daily vitamin and mineral supplementation throughout this period. The subjects were randomly assigned to intervention groups according to a one-half replicate of a 2(4) factorial experimental design. This design enabled testing for the effects of four combinations of nutrients: (A) retinol and zinc; (B) riboflavin and niacin; (C) vitamin C and molybdenum; and (D) beta carotene, vitamin E, and selenium. Doses ranged from one to two times U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances.
Results: A total of 2127 deaths occurred among trial participants during the intervention period. Cancer was the leading cause of death, with 32% of all deaths due to esophageal or stomach cancer, followed by cerebrovascular disease (25%). Significantly (P = .03) lower total mortality (relative risk [RR] = 0.91; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.84-0.99) occurred among those receiving supplementation with beta carotene, vitamin E, and selenium. The reduction was mainly due to lower cancer rates (RR = 0.87; 95% CI = 0.75-1.00), especially stomach cancer (RR = 0.79; 95% CI = 0.64-0.99), with the reduced risk beginning to arise about 1-2 years after the start of supplementation with these vitamins and minerals. No significant effects on mortality rates from all causes were found for supplementation with retinol and zinc, riboflavin and niacin, or vitamin C and molybdenum. Patterns of cancer incidence, on the basis of 1298 cases, generally resembled those for cancer mortality.
Conclusions: The findings indicate that vitamin and mineral supplementation of the diet of Linxian adults, particularly with the combination of beta carotene, vitamin E, and selenium, may effect a reduction in cancer risk in this population.
Implications: The results on their own are not definitive, but the promising findings should stimulate further research to clarify the potential benefits of micronutrient supplements.