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Questions About Research Link Between Supplements and Prostate Cancer

Any major study aimed at preventing prostate cancer is likely to get a lot of attention. Last year 238,950 men contracted the disease in the US, and 29,720 died from the tumor. It is the most common cancer among men and the risk increases with age.

Not surprisingly many researchers have been searching for an effective way to prevent the disease, including the use of vitamin E and selenium. Selenium is a metallic element that helps the body dispose of harmful chemicals.

Now the updated results of a 13-year study of 35,000 men using vitamin E and selenium have just been published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. To say the least, the outcome is disappointing: not only did vitamin E and selenium either in combination or individually fail to prevent the disease, but they actually doubled the risk of contracting the tumor.

What does this study actually tell us? For some physicians, the answer is absolutely clear.

“This is an important message, and it raises questions about other vitamins, herbs and supplements that patients may take in the hope of improving their health, when in reality the opposite might occur,” commented Gerald Chodak, MD, on Medscape, an online medical journal.

Based on the evidence from this one study can we now assume that anyone who considers taking any sort of vitamin or supplement is putting him or herself at risk? This belies the fact that tens of millions of Americans use these products everyday to boost their health. Many herbal supplements have strong anti-inflammatory properties that make them effective pain relievers without the addictive side effects of prescription painkillers.

According the to National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health: “Research has confirmed health benefits of some dietary supplements but not others.” It’s important to note that several large studies failed to find that supplements help prevent cancer, and that some actually increased the risk.

However, the fact is this is just one study, and not all we need to know about preventing prostate cancer. Nor is it necessary or wise to conclude that any natural preventive or treatment may lead to a negative consequence.

In this particular case, vitamin E and selenium appear to accelerate rather than inhibit cancer.

It would be helpful to know why this phenomenon occurs, because it may shed light on how the malignancy develops.

Bottom line: we should be aware of these findings without overreacting to them, either as doctors or as patients.

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