Vitamin E may indeed increase the risk of prostate cancer

It was once thought that taking vitamin E could reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, recent research suggests this is not the case. Back in 2008 one large study, known as the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), showed that not only did vitamin E fail to decrease the risk of prostate cancer — it may have increased the risk instead.

The SELECT trial was initiated after another study, known as the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene (ATBC) Cancer Prevention Trial, found that men who took vitamin E experienced fewer prostate cancer diagnoses and fewer prostate cancer deaths than men who took a placebo. While these results were intriguing, because the ATBC study did not aim to study prostate cancer specifically, and included a limited sample of men, further research was needed.

The SELECT trial was designed to specifically examine the impact of vitamin E and another supplement, selenium, on prostate cancer risk. The study included 35,533 men ages 50 and older who did not have prostate cancer. Participants were randomly assigned to take daily pills that contained vitamin E, selenium, both, or neither. To determine the impact of supplements on cancer risk, the researchers planned to compare cancer rates among the four different groups over several years.

In 2008, after following the men for only five and a half years, the trial was stopped short. The study’s safety monitoring committee concluded that neither vitamin E nor selenium — alone or in combination — offered protection against prostate cancer. More importantly, however, they noted that the risk of developing prostate cancer in the vitamin E group was slightly higher than the risk in the other three groups. Though the difference in risk between the groups was not significant in a scientific sense, it was still threatening enough to stop the trial.

Now, seven years into follow-up, this worrisome trend persists. Only this time, the results are more definitive. A new data analysis published in the October issue the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the vitamin E group is the only group with a significantly higher rate of both aggressive and non-aggressive prostate cancer. Compared with the placebo group, men who took only vitamin E during the trial were 17% more likely to get prostate cancer over the seven-year period. The researchers were unable to offer an explanation of why taking the vitamin supplement increased cancer rates in these men.

Dr. Marc Garnick, an internationally renowned expert in medical oncology and urologic cancer, and editor in chief of the Annual Report on Prostate Diseases, offers readers some advice in light of these alarming results.

“We know that eating a healthy, balanced diet can help prevent prostate cancer. Based on the results of the SELECT trial, I strongly discourage my patients from taking supplemental vitamin E or selenium. In fact, I tell all my patients to throw away essentially every supplement they swear by; studies have generally not shown them to be helpful for disease prevention. Overall, if people eat a healthy diet, they really shouldn’t need supplements.”

The SELECT trial is the only large study thus far that has shown these results. More, longer-term research is needed to determine exactly why vitamin E might lead to greater prostate cancer risk. The trial’s scientists will offer blood and tissue samples from 3,500 men who participated in the trial to other scientists with an interest in further investigating the potential vitamin E and prostate cancer connection.

Read more about about prostate cancer and vitamin E on the Harvard Prostate Knowledge website.


  1. Julian J. Bailey

    I have a prostate issue at 67 years old. Right now it was prostatitis & not yet diagnosed further. I am taking various natural high grade supplements. I eat organically and am a vegetarian. I exercise every day. I was taking two 400 IUs of a Vit E supplement. Half before bedtime along with a preventive cardio supplement that contains nattokinase and amla. I am not yet sure but it seemed that my prostate may have been more troublesome when taking the Vit E. That is what led me to post the question. My case is not scientific & I take other supplements during the day. So it is difficult to know. I just felt that the Vit E might be a factor in the inflamation. I am checking this out further but was surprised when I googled the question that there was a Harvard study out there that came to a conclusion (possibly erroneously) that there was a negative connection between prostate cancer risk and Vit E usage. I agree with the comments made that there may be other variables with that study but I was not aware of that study when I posed my question.

  2. Ted

    Unfair to say that Vitamin E is the culprit for the increase risk of prostrate cancer. How about the lifestyle of those men participated in the study? How about the alcohol intake? Is he a smoker? or other factors and genetics. This study is totally rubbish and will not stand any scientific evidence!

  3. Joseph

    This article is full of partial. incomplete, and very misleading statements. It was obviously written by someone with an agenda to promote synthetic drugs and to discourage taking supplements. Some supplements are indeed worthless, or nearly so, but unless taken in serious excess are highly unlikely to be harmful. The ONLY way to tell if supplements are advisable is by having periodic blood tests. Yes, blood tests cost money (which may or may not be covered by your insurance) and require having a needle stuck into your arm but if you are serious about achieving and maintaining your good health this will not be an impediment.

  4. MB

    I agree with ClaudeA. We are not told what vitamin E was used and how much, and the way they come up with numbers…

    17% are more likely to get cancer.. How many people, where were these people geographically located, what water did they drink, what kind of diet have they followed besides vitamin E, stress factors.. etc..

    For all we know, they might have had the prostate cancer due to not enough sun light. I’m sorry Martin, but this kind of research is completely useless and does not sound unbiased and scientific at all.

  5. Brenda Paschal

    How much vitamin E are we talking about? My husband is taking a suppliment that has vitamin E i it.. I believe it is 100mg.

  6. MartinB

    Your comment is based upon pseudoscience and alternative facts, whereas the study cited draws its conclusions from a set of objective and unbiased scientific data.

  7. ClaudeA

    Sadly, as usual for the promoters of toxic, synthetic meds manufactured by big pharma, this “research fails to specify the actual vitamin E combination that was used. There are over 100 combinations of vitamin E in its 8 natural elements and the toxic, synthetic poor mimic that these deceiving pharmacologists concoct, adding at least that number of variables to the fray.

    Therefore, this proposed study is utterly moot. Based on zilch.

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