Two popular vitamin supplements may hike risk of cancer by up 111%

Prostate cancer: Doctor outlines symptoms you might experience

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There is a yawning gap between the claims made about dietary supplements and the proven efficacy of them. It’s this gap that has prompted health bodies to issue words of caution to anyone looking to bolster their health this way. The possible link to cancer is one of the most alarming.

According to Harvard Health, it would be wise to “exercise caution” before employing natural remedies in lieu of medicine therapy.

The health body draws attention to two supplements in particular: vitamin E and selenium.

It cites one of the most publicised studies on supplements and prostate cancer: the SELECT (Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial) study, which explored the use of vitamin E and selenium supplements.

The study initially followed over 35,000 men in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Canada, who were assigned randomly to receive either a selenium and vitamin E supplement, selenium and placebo, vitamin E and placebo, or two placebos.

Preliminary studies suggested that both might reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer.

Yet, the SELECT results, published in 2011 in JAMA, found that men who took vitamin E supplements had a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer compared with men who took a placebo.

In 2014, researchers, using data from the SELECT study, found that high doses of vitamin E (400 international units per day) or selenium (200 micrograms per day) showed no benefit among men at risk for prostate cancer, and in some cases the supplementations even posed a danger.

For instance, those with already high selenium levels at the study’s launch increased their risk of high-grade prostate cancer by 91 percent after taking the selenium supplements.

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Also, among men with low selenium levels, vitamin E supplementation increased their total risk of prostate cancer by 63 percent and increased their risk of high-grade cancer by 111 percent.

Other studies have alighted upon a worrying link between these supplements and poor cancer outcomes.

For example, a 2004 Lancet analysis of 14 trials concluded that supplements of beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, E, and selenium do not reduce the risk of oesophageal, stomach, bowel, pancreatic or liver cancer.

The analysis suggested they could even increase the risk of dying from these diseases.

Mixed picture

The evidence raises legitimate causes for concern but it’s worth pointing out that other studies have found no such association.

What’s more, some studies directly contradict these findings.

Multiple observational studies have reported significant associations between vitamin E and a decreased risk of oesophagus, colorectal, lung, pancreatic, kidney, and bladder cancer.

A meta-analysis of 10 studies with 2976 patients and 254,393 controls observed a 13 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer for the highest compared with the lowest level of vitamin E intake among European populations.

To stay on the safe side, reputable health bodies, such as Cancer Research UK, advise getting all the vitamins you need via a healthy diet.

Cancer Research UK says: “There is no reliable evidence that any dietary supplement can help to prevent cancer.

“Some research has found that taking certain supplements could increase the risk of some cancers developing.”

The charity adds: “There is evidence that a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can reduce your cancer risk.”

According to the NHS, a healthy, balanced diet means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

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