Refuting the Prostate Cancer and Vitamin E Study
Refuting the Prostate Cancer and Vitamin E Study
This newsletter was originally published in November of 2011. I am updating and revising it because many readers do not go that far back into my old blogs, and I still hear from clients that they have been advised to avoid vitamin E if they have any concerns about prostate cancer. Since this is bad advice, I thought I would remind everyone why that is.
My original blog addressed two (at the time, recent) news articles critical of vitamin usage, which were printed in most newspapers with no follow up or opposing opinions. As someone who has worked in the vitamin industry for over 30 years as a consultant, product designer and author, I am used to seeing these one-sided press releases that just create confusion for the consumer. Personally, I firmly believe that pharmaceutical companies run disinformation campaigns to malign the nutrition industry.
The most offensive of these two articles was the one concerning prostate cancer and vitamin E, which I will address in detail below. The less bothersome article (both were published together on the same day) was titled, “Women who use multivitamins run risk of earlier death“.
Women and Multivitamins
As with the prostate study, this one was also easy to refute. First off, the average age of the participants was 61, so perhaps it should have been titled “Senior Women who use multivitamins…”.
Secondly, the mortality risk among the subjects was highest with iron. Any senior woman purchasing a multivitamin in any reputable vitamin store would be sold one with no iron in it. This is due to it being well established in the nutrition field that iron can be dangerous for women past menstruation. (Source) In fact, this is the primary difference between a multivitamin for an “adult” woman and a “50 plus” woman: no iron. (This principle usually applies only to women who eat red meat, as a woman who is mostly vegetarian may require an iron supplement.)
Finally, the increase in death rate was 2.4% which verges on statistically insignificant, and hardly worth alarmist headlines. (Source) In contrast to this dubious study, we have a new one (May, 2023) from Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard which claims that taking a daily multivitamin supplement can slow age-related memory decline. (Source)
Prostate Cancer and Vitamin E
Now, the most egregious of the two articles/studies we are examining was titled “Prostate cancer risk linked to vitamin E “, and the study being discussed concluded with this statement: “Dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men.”
This study and its negative claim was easy to refute by simply examining the original study in detail on the PubMed database. (Remember, I am a layman: if I can easily refute this study the least a journalist could do is look at it in a little more detail before they publish misleading headlines.) When I looked at the original study I found that they used synthetic, petroleum-derived vitamin E (racemic alpha-tocopheryl). (Source)
Now, no one familiar with how to use vitamins would ever suggest the use of synthetic vitamin E, which is not only highly debatable as to its effectiveness, but also may actually block E-receptors in the body from taking up natural vitamin E. (More info.)
As I mentioned in my book, Health Secrets for the 21st Century: Volume One, you show me a study that swings one way and I will find you one that says just the opposite (which illustrates the amount of information confounded with disinformation). For example, on PubMed I found another study involving over 35,000 men (followed for a decade), showing a distinct protective advantage against advanced prostate cancer by taking 400IU of natural vitamin E daily. (Study)
While we are discussing this prostate study I should mention the fact that this study also included selenium, commonly believed to help prevent prostate cancer. However, the form of selenium used was not ideal.
The two most common forms of selenium found in high quality supplements are yeast-derived selenium and selenomethionine, with selenomethionine now being more popular. However, my research has convinced me that the selenium derived from yeast is superior, and more effective than selenomethionine.
In an article, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1996), Dr. Larry C. Clark, and his colleagues, found a reduction in cancer in individuals receiving a daily 200 mcg yeast-derived selenium supplement (“SelenoExcell”). Patients who took daily doses of this selenium had 63% fewer cases of prostate cancer, 58% fewer cases of colon or rectal cancers, and 45% fewer lung cancers than those not receiving the supplement. More recent research (2015) by John Richie Jr, PhD, at Penn State, found yeast-derived selenium (SelenoExcell) significantly reduced oxidative stress biomarkers far more than selenium methionine. (Source)
Furthermore, a large-scale review concluded that: “This meta-analysis indicated that selenium most probably has a protective role against development of prostate cancer and its progression to advanced stages. Therefore, selenium supplementation can be proposed for prevention of prostate cancer.” (Study)
(For more on the subject see this newsletter on selenium.)
Vitamin E Succinate
Given we are discussing the prostate and vitamin E, I will take a brief look at one particular form of vitamin E, known as succinate (or dry) vitamin E.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is required in adequate amounts for general health and specifically for fertility and to protect the heart. (Vitamin E also works synergistically with selenium, so they are best used in tandem.) Among the main benefits of vitamin E we include both anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
In both these cases, vitamin E succinate has proven to be superior to other natural forms of vitamin E. As an anti-inflammatory, “vitamin E succinate has more potent anti-inflammatory effect than other isomers of vitamin E.” (Source)
And, as an anti-cancer agent “vitamin E succinate (VES), a succinic acid ester of vitamin E, is one of the most effective anticancer compounds of the vitamin E family. VES can inhibit tumor growth by multiple pathways mainly involving tumor proliferation inhibition, apoptosis induction, and metastasis prevention”. (Source)
(For a fascinating look at the history of vitamin E, the pioneering work of the Canadian Shute brothers, and how the medical profession tried to ignore and suppress their findings, follow this link.)
As long as we are on the subject, don’t forget that we also need to keep our vitamin K2 levels up in order to prevent prostate cancer from developing.
And, let’s not forget our old friend vitamin D, when we are discussing prostate cancer. A study from 2016, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, indicates that vitamin D levels can be a biomarker for spotting aggressive prostate cancer.
“Now we have evidence that suggests that people who have aggressive prostate cancer have lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is common in men with aggressive prostate cancer… Men with dark skin, low vitamin D intake, or low sun exposure should be tested for vitamin D deficiency when they are diagnosed with an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) level or prostate cancer.” said the lead author of this study, Adam Murphy, MD. (Source)
More Bad News About the PSA Test
In Health Secrets Volume One, I discussed the debatable value of the PSA test as an indicator of prostate cancer. In 2011, a 20 year study of prostate cancer screening, observing 9,026 men, was published in the British Medical Journal. The trial was done in Sweden (Karolinska Institute in Stockholm) randomly picking one out of every 6 men to be screened every third year, with the rest of the men being the control group. “After 20 years of follow up, the rate of death from prostate cancer did not differ significantly between men in the screening group and those in the control group.” Basically the blood tests and digital rectal exams helped to detect the cancer but did not reduce the number of deaths due to it. (Study)
Another U.S. study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine), followed 75,000 men aged 55 and up for just over a decade. Half of the men had annual digital rectal exams, PSA tests or both, the other half did not. Again, in the end the death rate from prostate cancer “was very low and did not differ significantly” between the two groups. Heather Logan from the Canadian Cancer Society actually went so far as to comment: “All and all it is really not a very effective tool to screen for prostate cancer.” I would venture to guess that the reason that these tests don’t do more to save lives is that the current approach to cancer treatment is as, or more, deadly than the disease itself.
Ironically, on the page opposite these two disparaging articles in my local paper were two quarter page ads for drug companies (one from Pfizer and one on nicotine replacement therapy with antidepressants). Perhaps this is why they never printed my letter to the editor explaining the flaws in these studies. They know which side their bread is buttered on.
Given the information on vitamin E and selenium discussed above, you will be pleased to know that NutriStart uses the superior forms of both these nutrients in our NutriPods products. And in the NutriPods for Men we also include other nutrients and herbal compounds that balance male hormones and help to protect the prostate.