A recent study stated that Vitamin E increases the risk for prostate cancer. This is a great example of how figures and studies can be manipulated in the favor of a certain industry to benefit from. The most recent study on the effects of selenium and vitamin E and the role they play in cancer prevention has stirred up controversy in the pharmaceutical industry. Many medical websites and journals have picked up this study, in my opinion, to take shots at the natural community. In all fairness, we (the natural industry) do the same thing when it comes to adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs, but I try to just report the facts without manipulation to favor my opinions. In an article posted on MedScape it stated, “The results demonstrated that there was no protective effect from selenium and suggested that vitamin E increased prostate cancer risk”. Medscape was not the only one to report on this information, there are numerous medical journals that are using this as ammunition.
This statement suggests that vitamin E can actually be harmful for any male with a prostate. That is a fairly bold statement considering we get vitamin E from our food and that is a well known anti-oxidant. So lets look at the actual study in reference, “Baseline Selenium Status and Effects of Selenium and Vitamin E Supplementation on Prostate Cancer Risk”, published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and what was reported versus the media’s interpretation. The study looked at 3117 men and concluded that selenium did not increase the risk of prostate cancer in those individuals that started with low selenium status, but increased the risk in individuals that begin with high selenium levels. Any nutrient given at dosages higher than the physiologic need of the patient has the ability to cause unknown effects. These effects can sometimes be adverse and thus never the goal of proper natural medicine. To extrapolate that all selenium supplementation is non-beneficial and in fact harmful is a poor interpretation of the data. The study further reported that vitamin E in selenium deficient individuals showed an increase risk of prostate cancer. It is important that we dissect this sentence carefully. First, the males started with low selenium status. This adds a variable that was not accounted for. Plus, selenium is a powerful antioxidant which can quench cancer causing free radical damage. Low selenium could result in an accumulation of free radicals and a decrease in glutathione levels. Second, the vitamin E that was given was only a portion or sub-fraction of vitamin E, Alpha tocopherol (AT). AT given without other fractions of vitamin E has the ability to push or compete with other nutrients in the body. In this case, AT pushes out gamma tocopherol, which is the sub fraction of Vitamin E we know to be cancer protective.
“This high dose of AT severely suppresses serum gamma-tocopherol, the prevalent dietary form of vitamin E in the United States. Gamma-tocopherol exhibits potentially beneficial chemical and biological activities not shared by alpha-tocopherol that make it potentially an important compound for PCa prevention.”1
This is a similar mechanism with zinc and copper. If you consume too much copper it will push out zinc and cause sex drive dysfunction, digestive distress, and a decrease in immunity. Could we manipulate that knowledge to make it sound like copper is detrimental to health? Absolutely. It would be easy. Just like a balanced diet, it is important to give any nutrient in a certain ratio and under particular conditions. The study went on to state further, “As a result, high-dose AT could effectively diminish other critical tocopherol functions which could be needed for subjects with low-Se status.”1
We were also not given a proper clinical presentation of the men that were tested. Given that a majority of Americans are not only over-weight, but obese and highly inflamed, could also be a contributing factor to the altered reaction in these somewhat beneficial nutrients. Oily nutrients, such as vitamin E, can easily be formed into a rancid state, which would create free radicals. Free radicals absolutely have the ability to cause/ exacerbate diseases such as cancer. If this is the case, then we are not truly looking at vitamin E, but any oil such as fish, flax, olive etc.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of research to dissect is publication bias and/or motive. This means that there is a certain industry or group fundings the studying which could possibly lead to alterations in data interpretation to tip it in favor of a certain agenda. This has become slightly easier to spot over the past few years as journal are requiring that researchers on the project disclose their affiliations. Below we will look at one of the studies that caused this stir about Vitamin E in the media, “Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial”, published in JAMA. I bolded the important connections and underlined the corresponding company affliations, mostly large pharmaceutical companies.
“Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. Dr Thompson reported receiving research support from the National Cancer Institute for a randomized controlled trial testing finasteride against placebo, both of which are supplied by Merck. Dr Gaziano reported receiving grant support (to his institution) from Wyeth (now Pfizer) in the form of vitamin and placebo pills and packaging. Dr Karp reported receiving grants to his institution from Pfizer. Dr Klotz reported receiving travel support for meetings from sanofi-aventis, Merck, and AstraZeneca and research support for investigator initiated trials from Abbott and GlaxoSmithKline, and institutional grants pending. Dr Chin reported receiving consultancy fees from Janssen, Amgen, Novartis, and Firmagon; receiving payment for lectures from Firmagon; and payment for development of educational presentations from AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Firmagon. Dr Meyskens reported being a co-founder of Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals. Dr Baker reported board membership for Merck for which he receives no compensation. Otherwise there were no other conflicts of interest disclosed.”2
In conclusion, when you find a newsletter or study that concerns you, bring it to your Doctor to dissect and explain to you. I do recommend you talk to your Doctor about annual check-ups to make sure you are in good overall health, this may include a digital rectal exam, DRE, as well as other lab works. Signs of an enlarged or dysfunction prostate include:
- Frequent urination
- Painful ejaculation
- Feeling of a constant full bladder
- Waking in the middle of the night to urinate
- Low back pain unresolved by Chiropractic, Acupuncture, massage or medicine
If you are experiencing any of the above — make an appointment with your physician for a complete exam. Above all else, arm yourself with knowledge that will get you to optimal wellness!
- Frankel, H. et al. Baseline Selenium and Prostate Cancer Risk: Comments and Open Questions. JNCI. Feb. 2014
- Klein, E. et al. Vitamin E and the Risk of Prostate Cancer. JAMA. Oct. 12, 2011.