Health

The Perils of Pills

Beware health supplements for prostate cancer

For five years before he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Brian Hancock (not his real name) took vitamin E and selenium pills.

Like many middle-aged men, the 61-year-old New Jersey physician took the antioxidant supplements to lower his cancer risk. The irony is not lost on him.

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“I was a big believer in vitamin E,” Hancock told LifeZette. “I’m not anymore.”

Only after diagnosis “did my physician advise me to avoid vitamins as a supplementation to cancer treatment.” Ultimately, Hancock opted for prostate surgery over radiation and has remained cancer-free for more than five years.

Related: Supplements and Sin

Cancer patients generally want to do everything in their power to fight off the disease — exercise, maintain mental health, and eat right. No wonder so many opt to up their vitamin intake through supplements.

Men’s health supplements provide no value — and potentially substantial risk.

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But the supposed benefits of multivitamins vis-a-vis cancer has long been a bone of contention among physicians. Now, new research reveals men’s health supplements provide no value — and potentially substantial risk.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky of Fox Chase Cancer Center at Temple University led the clinical study looked at about 2,300 prostate cancer patients, 10 percent of whom took men’s health supplements during treatment or during the subsequent four years.

“Men’s health supplements are often mislabeled as having potential anti-cancer or healing effects,” Zaorsky said.

The supplements consumed by the patients in the study were marketed as being “clinically proven” despite having not being tested in any clinical trials — and certainly found to be ineffective in this latest study.

Related: Something Fishy Going On

Zaorsky said he hopes his findings will inspire pharmaceutical companies to stop endorsing supplements in a misleading way.

The general population believes multivitamins can improve health while sick or prevent disease when healthy — and at the very least not cause the body any harm. But that’s an illusion, Zaorsky said.

“Although we did not see a change in side effects, there have been thousands of cases in the US where supplements have harmed patients,” he said.

While Zaorsky did not measure how men’s health supplements influence the possibility of getting prostate cancer, research has indicated that multivitamins do not ward off chronic illness. In fact, some can increase a person’s cancer risk.

Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2012, the cautionary study concluded that dietary supplements should not be marketed as a means to prevent cancer when “there is little to no scientific evidence that supplements reduce cancer risk.”

Related: Conquering Cancer

In 2009, the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued Bayer for claiming Men’s One-A-Day multivitamins reduce the risk of prostate cancer because the vitamins contain selenium. That was after a large prostate cancer prevention trial backed by the National Cancer Institute found that selenium does not lower prostate cancer risk. The company has since revised the labeling on its packaging.

In 2014, more comprehensive results came out of the selenium and vitamin E cancer prevention trial from NCI that indicated that participants taking vitamin E actually have a 17 percent increased chance of getting prostate cancer.

When it comes to taking supplements to enhance health, Zaorsky told LifeZette, “Don’t treat something you haven’t diagnosed.”

Hancock agreed. Today, Hancock opts for retrieving the appropriate nutrition from a well-balanced diet and maintains cardiovascular health by seeing a personal trainer twice a week.

“I no longer advise my patients to take health supplements,” Hancock said. “Any essential and helpful vitamins and minerals can and should be extracted from what you eat, not pills you take.”

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