I frequently get asked if vitamin E helps or promotes prostate cancer. The answer is, it depends. Allow me to explain.
Vitamin E consists of eight different types called isomers, which includes four different tocopherols (alpha (α), beta (β), gamma (γ), and Delta (δ)) and four different tocotrienols (α, β, γ, and δ), and all have been researched for their impact on prostate cancer. Since the human body cannot make vitamin E, the main source has to come from diet. The foods with most vitamin E include soybeans, corn, walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, and other vegetable oils. While gamma-tocopherol seems to be the most consumed in diet, the main type found in cells are alpha-tocopherol. When a large study called the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), looked at this mineral to see if it protects against prostate cancer, it disappointedly came out short.
But here is what researchers missed:
The SELECT trial ONLY used alpha-tocopherol vitamin E, without any other of its family members, especially gamma-tocopherol. That is a form of reductionist thinking, that is, one chemical to treat one disease. Reductionistic thinking is faulty and over simplistic and leads to the disease epidemic of cancer, heart disease, and rapid aging, we are all witnessing. Studying just the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E is poor design and methodology, especially when there is some evidence indicating that other members of the vitamin E family are even more critical.
A Brief Review of Vitamin E studies and Prostate Cancer
Studies in the year 2000 emerged, demonstrating that the alpha-tocopherol component of vitamin E DOES NOT protect men from prostate cancer without the other major component of vitamin E, gamma-tocopherol. In fact, the alpha-tocopherol form of vitamin E depletes the cells of the more protective form of vitamin E, gamma tocopherol (Handelman et al. 1994).
When high doses of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E are consumed simply not protective without the synergistic benefit of gamma-tocopherol. While alpha-tocopherol inhibits the production of free radicals, it is the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E that is required to trap and neutralize free radicals. (Christen et al. 1997) Furthermore, researchers reported that it could be dangerous to take high levels of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E without also consuming gamma-tocopherol.
In over ten thousand men studied at the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, men who had the highest blood levels of gamma-tocopherol were five times less likely to get prostate cancer (Helzlsouer et al. 2000). In addition to the finding that higher levels of gamma-tocopherol significantly reduced prostate cancer risk, the study also showed that selenium and alpha tocopherol also reduced prostate cancer incidence, but only when gamma-tocopherol levels are high.
Other researchers have also found that gamma-tocopherol offers a protective effect against prostate cancer (Huang et al. 2003).
In a 2012 research paper by Dr. Chung S. Yang from Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy said:
“Our message is that the vitamin E form of gamma-tocopherols, the most abundant form of vitamin E in the American diet, and delta-tocopherols, also found in vegetable oils, are beneficial in preventing cancers while the form of vitamin E, alpha-tocopherol, the most commonly used in vitamin E supplements, has no such benefit.”
“When animals are exposed to cancer-causing substances, the group that was fed these tocopherols in their diet had fewer and smaller tumors,” Yang says. “When cancer cells were injected into mice, these tocopherols also slowed down the development of tumors.”
“For people who think that they need to take vitamin E supplements,” Yang says, “taking a mixture of vitamin E that resembles what is in our diet would be the most prudent supplement to take.”(Yang et al. 2012)
What are you to do?
The first thing to do is to have the right mindset. The one treatment, reductionist approach to health and longevity does not work. One needs an arsenal of strategies to improve the prognosis. In many cases, surgery or radiation is needed to reduce tumor load, no question. When adding nutrition and exercise, longevity, and optimal functioning improve despite conventional treatment and its associated adverse side effects.
When choosing vitamin supplements with vitamin E, turn to the back of the supplement bottle, read the supplement facts and be assured the vitamin E source is NOT only alpha-tocopherol alone and includes mixed-tocopherol with primary gamma-tocopherol included in the formula. When formulating GDtoxSel, I researched numerous scientific papers, many cited on this article, which overwhelmingly suggested to include high gamma, mixed-tocopherol vitamin E for maximal protection.
As always, the right combination of nutrition, including carefully selected supplements and exercise can do wonders in improving the prognosis of men after a potentially life-threatening diagnosis like prostate cancer.