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Does Vitamin E cause prostate cancer?

By Josh Trutt, MD

From time to time a medical paper comes out that "makes the headlines." This week the news cycle focused briefly on a trial known as SELECT: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial.

SELECT was a study of 35,000 men over age 50, initiated back in 2001. The men were given either 200mcg/day of selenium, 400 IUs/day of vitamin E, both, or neither (two placebo pills). They were then checked for prostate cancer every six months, for the next ten years.

Last week, JAMA reported that after 9 years of following these patients, it now appeared that dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men.

This hit the 24-hour news cycle hard and fast:

ABC World News reported that the study shows "vitamin E significantly raises the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men by 17%."
CBS Evening News agreed.

The Washington Post (10/12/11, Stein) reported on its front page(!), "Just because it's 'only a vitamin' or 'it's natural,' we assume it must be safe. But over and over again, we see that's not necessarily the case.'

And so on. Not surprisingly, we received a number of emails from concerned patients.

Let me start by making clear that the PhysioAge Supplement Packs do not contain any of the type of vitamin E that was used in the SELECT study. And with good reason: it's been apparent for well over a decade that high doses of that type of vitamin E may be harmful.

If we had been asked to write the news story on SELECT, it would have sounded something like this:

"The SELECT Trial shows yet again that high doses of synthetic d,l-alpha tocopherol are probably harmful- a finding that has been observed in close to a dozen previous trials. SELECT did not investigate natural alpha-tocopherol, nor did it look at any of the seven other forms of vitamin E. Of note, trial participants who also took selenium were protected from the ill effects of high-dose synthetic alpha-tocopherol, suggesting that multiple anti-oxidants used in combination (similar to how they are ingested in food) are more beneficial than single anti-oxidants in high doses. This too is consistent with multiple previous trials."

That story is a bit less exciting, but it has the benefit of being accurate.

To put the SELECT trial in context, we need to back up and look at vitamin E research as a whole....

(To view this post in its entirety, click here )