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June 15th, 2010
06:08 PM ET

Vitamin B6 may play anti-cancer role

By Leslie Wade
CNN Medical Producer

A new study suggests vitamin B6 may play a role in preventing cancer (watch video).

A study in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association found adults with higher levels of vitamin B6 in their blood were half as likely to develop lung cancer as those with low B6 levels.

"This doesn't mean that if you take vitamins and eat well, cigarette smoking is safe," explains Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association.

The study included almost 400,000 adults from 10 European countries who were either current smokers, former smokers or had never smoked. Researchers looked at the differences in vitamin B6 levels between those who developed lung cancer after five years and those who did not.

Those with lower blood levels of vitamin B6 had higher risks of lung cancer, no matter what their smoking status. Doctors say healthy levels of B vitamins help make and maintain healthy DNA – an important factor in the prevention of cancer. Vitamin B6 is in a variety of foods including meats, poultry, fish, grains, beans and some fruits and vegetables – such as avocados, broccoli and bananas.

Though many cancer experts are cautiously optimistic about this research, they stress that until these findings are replicated in other studies, nothing definitive can be directly linked to vitamin B6. Even study author, Dr. Paul Brennan with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, believes there is more  learn.  "We don't know if these compounds are really lowering the risk. In your diet, if you have a high level of a certain vitamin then you might have higher levels of other vitamins as well."

Edelman says the research shouldn't be overlooked. "Reducing risk by 50 percent is quite impressive. It's more than one would expect by differences in diet."

Experts point out that many people in Western populations are deficient in B vitamins. And researchers caution, if you're a smoker, don't let this serve as an excuse to continue smoking and don't be tempted to take high doses of the vitamin– that's unhealthy.

Smoking is responsible for eight out of 10 cases of lung cancer and though many people quit, they remain at risk. Finding preventive measures to reduce the risk of lung cancer may be especially important to former smokers.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. nursegillian

    This is good news for B6 but I'm glad the point is being made that this a starting point for learning. For instance alcoholics are known to be deficient in B vitamins. It could be that drinking and smoking doubles your chance of getting lung cancer. There so many variables.

    June 15, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jonathan Goldstein, MD

    This is an interesting finding but I caution people to be very careful not to take too much supplemental B6 as this vitamin, also known as pyridoxine, can cause severe nerve damage.

    June 16, 2010 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr. Dubrawsky

    The findings of this study are impressive and significant.
    There is no doubt that vitamins are crucial for health ,survival and
    longevity.The B complex of vitamins are apparantly more valuable
    than others.Still the mechanism of action,as far as Immunity is concerned ,is lacking.
    Of all the B vitamins known,Vitamin B3 is an "Orphan".
    Throughout the last few decads,most of the studies published,in this
    subject "Convinently" neglect to mention Vitamin B3(Nicotinic acid-
    Niacin).This is done in spite of Niacin being the "Best Vitamin-Nutrient-Medicine to elevate H.D.L. and lower Tiglycerides" Why?
    Mainly because we still do nt understand Immunology,specificly:
    Innate Immunology:The first line of defense of any Living organism.

    June 16, 2010 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. caution

    Thank you Dr. Goldstein for your comment about nerve damage with too much B6. After taking an over-the-counter Multi-vitamin with 300% of the daily value of B6 for a few years, I developed some strange pains. I didn't understand the connection until I went to a neurologist. She found that I had very high/ toxic levels of B6. Now I take less B6 and the pain is gone. My doctor mentioned that B6 can be very dangerous and in some countries they are thinking of controlling access to it. Just thought I'd post this since this article will no doubt prompt people to start taking more B6.

    June 16, 2010 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Peter Malet MD

    On the CNN TV broadcast this morning, the news commentator, John Roberts, kept referring to vitamin B6 as 'niacin' and mentioned the side effect of flushing. Vitamin B6 is not niacin; it is pyridoxine and should not be confused with niacin.

    June 16, 2010 at 09:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. art schultz

    i first became aware of a compound of vitamin "b", Inositol, through a story carried by CTV News where the BC Cancer Agency (British Columbia in Canada) gave 18 grams of Inositol per day to lung cancer patients, all former smokers. In 30 to 90 days they all had tremendous improvements to their condition. I was diagnosed with meta-static squamous cell carcinoma of the left tonsil, and a tumor had grown in the adjoining lymph-node. I used 18 grams of Inositol per day and in approximately 9 days the tumor had shrunk in size by at least 20%. I stopped taking Inositol when i began my treatment of "chemo and 35 radiation sessions". When i finished my treatment program(5-1/2 weeks) i returned to Inositol for a further 6 months. I am cancer free and feel great! INOSITOL compound of Vitamin "B".

    June 16, 2010 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. guest

    To Jonathan Goldstein, MD – thank you for confriming the infromation about the nerve damage. I was taking B6 years ago and felt tingling in hands and arms. I heard about a study in England at the time that said to much B6 could be causing the trouble. So I stopped taking the B6 and the problem stopped.

    June 16, 2010 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Steve

    Of course the Doctors are not for it, they can't make any money if you take vitamins

    June 16, 2010 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Peter Baldini, Chief Executive Officer, World Lung Foundation

    As noted in this study, the best way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to avoid the most common cause: smoking. Never starting to smoke or quitting are ways in which the individual can protect themselves. However, we all have a responsibilty to the society in which we live and banning smoking in public places reduces the risk to others. So while diet may help the individual, it is no replacement for more holistic tobacco control and smokefree policies that help to reduce lung cancer among the population at large.

    June 16, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Toni

    I think the end of the segment was very confusing when the reporter called B6 "Niacin" and you did not correct him. Niacin is B3 and causes flushing-B6 does not.

    June 17, 2010 at 15:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. lin4544

    I always thought that vitamin d deficiency increased the chances of blood cancer, now it's b6?. well there is always a new theory everyday.

    June 28, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ted Hu

    In nature, exposed to directly UV-B sunlight that is.

    June 28, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Roshan Naorem

    I need it to explain me in molecular level.

    July 7, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Cyzane

    If they have lied to us about second hand smoke, what else are they lying to us about ? http://www.fightingback.homestead.com

    July 14, 2010 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dave

    I agree vitamin b6 is an important vitamin for our health but I am skeptical about vitamin b6 reducing cancer by 50%. I think vitamin vitamin b6 needs to be further researched in fighting cancer before all the hype goes to far.

    January 13, 2012 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dave

    Very intersting article on vitamin b6 and cancer. I do not think vitamin b6 can cut cancer by 50% but I do believe b6 can help fight cancer. Best way to get b6 is from foods in our diet and this article gives some good food sources.

    January 13, 2012 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Stacie

    Hello there! This article could not be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He always kept preaching about this. I most certainly will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he's going to have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    June 26, 2013 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Nia Jirsa

    Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin and is part of the vitamin B complex group. Several forms of the vitamin are known, but pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) is the active form and is a cofactor in many reactions of amino acid metabolism, including transamination, deamination, and decarboxylation. PLP also is necessary for the enzymatic reaction governing the release of glucose from glycogen...*;'

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    July 9, 2013 at 05:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.