The Right Vitamin A to Prevent Cancer

Vitamin A vs. Cancer

From all over the world have come the most exciting findings ever reported about vitamin A. More than a dozen studies have linked diets rich in vitamin A to a surprising amount of protection against some forms of cancer.

In Chicago, scientists found only two cases of lung cancer among 500 men, including some smokers, who eat many fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin A. That was only one-seventh as many lung cancer cases as were found in 500 men who ate few of these foods.

And in Norway, the findings were no different. Men who ate many vegetables rich in vitamin A had only one-third as much lung cancer as those eating little of these foods.

In Japan, the story was the same. Researches found 30 percent fewer cases of lung cancer among people who ate vegetables rich in vitamin A every day. The daily vegetable eaters also had lower rates of stomach cancer.

Cancer scientists have been so fascinated by these findings that the ability of vitamin A to protect us from cancer has become one of their top interests. Many are already convinced that we should be eating more foods rich in vitamin A. The Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer of the National academy of sciences has urged us to do so.

Studies have linked a diet rich in vitamin A to protection from cancer in eight different organs. The evidence is strongest for cancer of the lung, stomach, or esophagus.

But there is more good news. Research also ties vitamin A to protection from cancers of the mouth, colon, rectum, prostate, and bladder. There is less evidence here than for lung, stomach, and esophageal cancer. But there is enough to merit our attention.

Three Types of Vitamin A

“Vitamin A” is very general term. It refers to several substances that can take care of the body’s need for this nutrient.

For many of the body’s functions that need vitamin A, any form will do. But in cancer prevention, the picture looks different. As things stand right now, it seems that only some kinds of vitamin A in food.

  • Retinol is the vitamin A in animal foods.
  • Carotene, (or beta-carotene) is the main kind of vitamin A in fruits and vegetables.
  • Carotenoids are other forms of vitamin A found in fruits and vegetables. They are a very minor source of vitamin A.

Of these different kids of vitamin A, carotene is linked most strongly to protection from cancer.

….carotene is linked most strongly to protection from cancer.

Vitamin A Supplements Are Different

Of course, we can also get vitamin A from pills. The form used in vitamin compounds is not carotene or retinol. It usually is a synthetic form of vitamin A called vitamin A palmitate. Little research has been done on the ability of this kind of vitamin A to protect against cancer.

For this reason, it is not good idea to rely on vitamin A pills to reduce your risk of cancer. Scientists simply don’t know if this type of vitamin A has any value in preventing cancer.

You may also be aware that the kind of vitamin A usually contained in vitamin capsules or tablets can be toxic if taken in very high doses.

Newspapers and magazines have published some articles about special forms of vitamin A that show remarkable anti-cancer potential in laboratory animals. Scientists have used these forms of vitamin A, called retinoids, to block cancers of the lung, bladder, and breast in test animals.

Retinoids may be on the drugstore shelves someday. But right now they are not for sale. Their use is strictly experimental.

The Recommendation and How to Meet It

The Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer recommends daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. The committee advises us to emphasize those fruits and vegetables that are rich in carotene, the most important kind of vitamin A in plant foods.

To help in selecting foods, the Committee prepared the following chart which classifies foods as low, medium, or high in carotene.

Carotene in Fruits and Vegetables

Apples Brussels sprouts Apricots
Bananas Corn (yellow) Asparagus
Cabbage Green beans Broccoli
Cauliflower Green pepper Cantaloupe
Celery Peas Carrots
Cherries Summer squash Dark green leafy vegetables
Cucumbers Watermelon Kale
Grapes Mangoes
Grapefruit Peaches
Iceberg lettuce Pumpkins
Kohlrabi Romaine lettuce
Lemons Spinach
Limes Sweet potatoes
Oranges Tomatoes
Pears Winter squash
Potatoes (white)
* Low:

Less than 500 IU vitamin A per serving.

** Medium:

500 to 1000 IU vitamin A per serving

*** High:

More than 1000 IU vitamin A per serving

Note: Chart adapted from a 1989 compilation by the Committee on Diet, Nutrition,

and Cancer, National Academy of Science, U.S.A.

Before I continue to write this subject, I suggest you to find another point of view concerning the power of vitamin A in  fighting cancer, a useful  article for you posted in Blog of Health.

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