In light of the recently reported SELECT study, many patients are asking this question. Here is my short response:
- The data from the recently reported SELECT trial show a 17% increased risk of developing prostate cancer with 400 IU’s of vitamin E per day (but no difference in risk when men took both selenium and vitamin E vs. placebo). No data have yet been reported on the baseline serum levels of alpha-tocopherol among the men in this trial, which will be quite important. Researchers are scratching their heads trying to understand these counterintuitive data.
- Conflicting data: The data from the ATBC trials show a 32% reduced risk of developing prostate cancer with 50 IU’s of vitamin E per day (this beneficial effect was most dramatic among men who had higher baseline alpha-tocopherol levels.)
- The data on whether vitamins are ‘anti-cancer’ or not remain controversial and far from conclusive. Try to obtain most of your nutrients and vitamins from your diet. Since it is hard for most Americans to consume sufficient quantities of all the required nutrients in their diet, keep taking your quality multi-vitamin (with reduced iron).
- A growing opinion among the nutrition community is that the synthetic form of vitamin E (in particular, alpha-tocopherol, as used in this study), can cause free radical damage to the DNA of cells when not taken along with other forms of vitamin E to balance out this effect. Natural vitamin E is comprised of multiple tocopherols (i.e. alpha, delta, gamma-tocopherol), and is referred to as “mixed tocopherols” when found in supplements. If you are doing to take vitamin E in supplement form, it is recommended that you choose one that is more like what you would find in nature. This is one of my favorite vitamin E supplements:
**As said by my good friend and colleague (Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg: Director, USDA Antioxidant Research Laboratory, Tufts University) in a USA Today interview: “The average diet is poor when it comes to meeting recommended intakes of vitamins and minerals. Only about 3% of Americans adhere to the dietary guidelines. How many Americans do you know who eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day and consume at least 50% of their grains as whole grains? If you are eating a perfectly healthful diet, then you don’t need supplements. But for the 97% who aren’t there yet, for goodness sake, take a multivitamin.”