Are you one of those men who pop multivitamin pills or gulp down multivitamin shakes as you pump and stretch your way through your daily workouts? Or are you taking multivitamins to prevent prostate cancer? If so, listen up.
Previous claims that multivitamins reduce the risk for prostate cancer are false, and too much multivitamins may even increase the risk of the deadly cancer, according to new findings.
Vitamins are essential to life and our bodies can’t produce them, so we eat food for our energy and to get vitamins that are essential to various human functions. This is why it is a good idea to take a daily multivitamin or two. Right? Wrong, health experts say.
If the labels and claims on products sold by the health and fitness industry are true, people need huge doses of multivitamin products to stay in optimum health, to keep “fit” and to ward away the stresses of modern living.
But the multivitamin industry is also a multibillion dollar-industry that makes huge its bucks by taking advantage of the growing anxiety over the toll modern-day stresses take on human health—as well as a growing “adonis” culture that values perfectly sculpted muscular bodies, overachievement in sports and hyper sexual performance.
While it is true that not eating a balanced diet could lead to many vitamin and micronutrient deficiency ailments like goiter, scurvy, beri-beri, pellagra, and rickets, most of these diseases occur in poor nations. In the United States, Europe, Canada and other developed countries, even people who are too busy to eat a balanced diet get most of the nutrients they need from processed food that is often fortified.
Previously, much research went into vitamin C and E, and the belief was that these had antioxidants that could protect against cell damage and lower the risk for cancer.
But new research shows that beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E supplements may shorten life rather than extend it. Also, the actual amounts of antioxidants needed to offer potential protection differ among individuals and are not accurately known.
Research done by the US National Cancer Institute in 2007 [via BBC News] also showed that taking lots of multivitamins—more more than seven times a week—may may increase the risk of deadly prostate cancer.
The findings, based on data on nearly 300,000 men, indicated the risk of advanced prostate cancer is 32 percent higher in men who take multivitamins more than once a day than in those who do not take them at all. This means that the risk of prostate cancer associated with multivitamin-taking was almost double.
The study was unable to uncover why the multivitamins may increase the risk of certain types of prostate cancer.
“The possibility that men taking high levels of multivitamins along with other supplements have increased risk of advanced and fatal prostate cancers is of concern and merits further evaluation,” study leader Dr. Karla Lawson. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The researchers were also unable to identify which vitamin was causing the association with prostate cancer, mainly because multivitamins contain so many different components and men taking a lot of them were also more likely to be taking other supplements.
What’s worse was that the study found the correlation to be strongest for men with a family history of the disease—as well as men who also took beta-carotene, zinc and selenium supplements previously believed to lower the risk for prostate cancer.
Selenium + vitamin E combos can cause harm
Prostate cancer is a common cause of death in the United States and Europe and the second leading cause of cancer death in the US and the United Kingdom. It is less common in Asia and Africa.
In the US, around 240,890 cases will be diagnosed in 2011 and 33,720 men will die of it. In the UK, some 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and around 10,000 will die of it.
For quite some time, many health supplement companies have promoted selenium as a supplement that may offer protection against prostate cancer. But in 2009, trial results from the National Cancer Institute debunked these claims.
The study showed that selenium supplements did not reduce prostate cancer risks—and may even cause harm when taken in combination with vitamin E. Results also suggested a link between selenium and type 2 diabetes.
The large randomized trial of 35,000 men was called the “definitive” trial on the subject by Dr. Larry Baker of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, one of the study’s researchers.
Named the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), the study found that neither selenium nor vitamin E, taken alone or together, prevented prostate cancer after five years of use. In October 2008, the trial’s Data and Safety Monitoring Committee made the decision to stop the use of the supplements.
A smaller study done by researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts even suggested that selenium is harmful if prostate cancer is already present.
“If you already have prostate cancer, it may be a bad thing to take selenium,” Philip Kantoff, MD, director of genitourinary oncology and senior author of the study told Medscape Medical News in 2009.
That study showed that a high level of selenium in the blood was associated with a slightly elevated risk for aggressive prostate cancer in men who already have the disease.
Bayer retracts unproven anti-cancer claim
In 2010, drug maker Bayer was forced to retract the unsupported claim that its product, One A Day Men’s Health Formula multivitamins, reduced the risk of prostate cancer.
The watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said Bayer was barred from claiming that its One A Day multivitamins might cure, treat, or prevent any disease — including cancer — unless the company “can back up such claims with competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
CSPI dropped its plans to file a separate case after Bayer had settled claims with the health departments of Oregon, California and Illinois, paying up to US$3.3 million.
“It is unlawful to make health claims that are not backed up by science,” said Keith Dubanevich, chief of staff in the Oregon Department of Justice, in a press statement.
According to a Medscape Medical News article, a label of a package of the multivitamin read: “Did you know that prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed in men and that emerging research suggests Selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer? One A Day Men’s Health Formula is a complete multivitamin plus key nutrients including Selenium to support a healthy prostate.”
Another ad read: “Along with your regular doctor checkups, switch to One A Day men’s. A complete multivitamin plus selenium, which emerging research suggests may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.”
Future marketing campaigns for One A Day Men’s Vitamins were barred from making these claims not supported by science.
For men who wish to prevent prostate cancer, what do experts advise? The answer: Consider filling your nutritional gaps with nuts, legumes, and whole grains that contain selenium. Eat a healthy diet.
A high intake of fruit and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, European researchers say in the editorial accompanying the 2007 National Cancer Institute study.