Supplements warning: The vitamin that ‘significantly’ increases risk of cancer in men

Dr Dawn Harper discusses the symptoms of prostate cancer

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Vitamins and minerals are nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy. Most people should get all the nutrients they need by having a varied and balanced diet, although some people may need to take extra supplements. It’s worth noting that the supplement market has caused controversy for two reasons.

One is that bold claims are not always supported by evidence. Secondly, some vitamin supplements may present health risks.

In regards to the latter, vitamin E has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in men.

Vitamin E helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, and strengthen the body’s natural defence against illness and infection (the immune system).

However, studies looking at the long-term effect of vitamin E supplementation are limited.

Researchers in a study published in the journal JAMA sought to determine the long-term effect of vitamin E and selenium on risk of prostate cancer in relatively healthy men.

Selenium is an essential component of various enzymes and proteins.

The report was part of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) – a clinical trial to see if one or both of these substances could help prevent prostate cancer when taken as dietary supplements

A total of 35,533 men from 427 study sites in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico were randomised between August 22, 2001, and June 24, 2004.

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The primary analysis included 34,887 men who were randomly assigned to one of four treatment groups: 8752 to receive selenium; 8737, vitamin E; 8702, both agents, and 8696, placebo.

The analysis reflected the final data collected by the study sites on their participants through July 5, 2011.

Compared with the placebo in which 529 men developed prostate cancer, 620 men in the vitamin E group developed prostate cancer; as did 575 in the selenium group, and 555 in the selenium plus vitamin E group.

“Compared with placebo, the absolute increase in risk of prostate cancer per 1000 person-years was 1.6 for vitamin E, 0.8 for selenium, and 0.4 for the combination,” the researchers wrote.

The trial found that vitamin E (400 IU/day) supplementation was associated with a 17 percent increase in prostate cancer risk among men.

“Dietary supplementation with vitamin E significantly increased the risk of prostate cancer among healthy men,” the researchers concluded.

Vitamin E recommendations

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), you should be able to get the amount of vitamin E you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

“If you take vitamin E supplements, do not take too much as this could be harmful,” warns the DHSC.

Prostate cancer – signs to spot

“Prostate cancer does not usually cause any symptoms until the cancer has grown large enough to put pressure on the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the penis (urethra),” explains the NHS.

Symptoms of prostate cancer can include:

  • Needing to pee more frequently, often during the night
  • Needing to rush to the toilet
  • Difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • Straining or taking a long time while peeing
  • Weak flow
  • Feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully
  • Blood in urine or blood in semen.

These symptoms do not always mean you have prostate cancer.

“Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older because of a non-cancerous condition called prostate enlargement,” notes the NHS.

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