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Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg)



To prospectively evaluate the association of vitamin/mineral supplementation with cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality.


In the Heidelberg cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Heidelberg), which was recruited in 1994–1998, 23,943 participants without pre-existing cancer and myocardial infarction/stroke at baseline were included in the analyses. Vitamin/mineral supplementation was assessed at baseline and during follow-up. Cox regression models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


After an average follow-up time of 11 years, 1,101 deaths were documented (cancer deaths = 513 and cardiovascular deaths = 264). After adjustment for potential confounders, neither any vitamin/mineral supplementation nor multivitamin supplementation at baseline was statistically significantly associated with cancer, cardiovascular, or all-cause mortality. However, baseline users of antioxidant vitamin supplements had a significantly reduced risk of cancer mortality (HR: 0.52; 95% CI: 0.28, 0.97) and all-cause mortality (HR: 0.58; 95% CI: 0.38, 0.88). In comparison with never users, baseline non-users who started taking vitamin/mineral supplements during follow-up had significantly increased risks of cancer mortality (HR: 1.74; 95% CI: 1.09, 2.77) and all-cause mortality (HR: 1.58; 95% CI: 1.17, 2.14).


Based on limited numbers of users and cases, this cohort study suggests that supplementation of antioxidant vitamins might possibly reduce cancer and all-cause mortality. The significantly increased risks of cancer and all-cause mortality among baseline non-users who started taking supplements during follow-up may suggest a “sick-user effect,” which researchers should be cautious of in future observational studies.

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This study was supported by the Deutsche Krebshilfe [Grant-No.: 70-488-Ha I] and the German Research Foundation, Graduiertenkolleg 793: Epidemiology of communicable and chronic noncommunicable diseases and their interrelationships.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Sabine Rohrmann.

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Li, K., Kaaks, R., Linseisen, J. et al. Vitamin/mineral supplementation and cancer, cardiovascular, and all-cause mortality in a German prospective cohort (EPIC-Heidelberg). Eur J Nutr 51, 407–413 (2012).

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  • Supplements
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Mortality
  • Cohort study