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How vitamin E could prevent various types of cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Vitamin E to be developed by researcher to prevent cancer.

Research has suggested vitamin E can prevent cancer. Yet, studies regarding supplementing with the vitamin have been inconclusive. New findings show how a particular form of vitamin E might be used as an intervention to prevent prostate and other types of cancer.

Ohio State University researchers found in cell studies that one particular form of vitamin E destroyed prostate cancer tumor cells by interfering with an enzyme called Akt. Without the enzyme, cancer cells cannot survive. The study appears in the March 19, 2013, issue of the journal Science Signaling and is intriguing - that is if researchers can develop the vitamin E form into a drug that can be taken safely and effectively by humans.

Could a vitamin E pill be developed to stop cancer?

Ching-Shih Chen, professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at The Ohio State University and an investigator in Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center said in a press release, "Our goal is to develop a safe pill at the right dose that people could take every day for cancer prevention. It takes time to optimize the formulation and the dose,” he said.

Chen adds that taking typical supplements would fail to prevent cancer for two reasons: The type of vitamin E sold is synthetic and not the kind used in the study. The second reason is because vitamin E in doses used in the study can't be absorbed well enough to have an anti-cancer effect.

The researcher is working on developing just such a pill and has filed a patent application.

Gamma form of tocopherol in vitamin E most potent

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The most common form of the vitamin is tocopherol. In the study, the gamma form of tocopherol was the most potent for fighting cancer.

In order to obtain the anti-cancer effect, the researchers manipulated the chemical structure of vitamin E to make it 20 times higher than the amount found in cells. In mouse experiments, the injected agent reduced the size of prostate cancer tumors.

Gamma and alpha tocopherols were both explored. Chen said gamma tocopherol had the most potent effect on killing cancer tumors

Treated tumors in mice that were compared to placebo injections confirmed the effects were the same in animals as they had been in cell cultures. Vitamin E suppressed Akt.

The gamma tocopherol specifically works by attracting Akt and a second protein, called PHLPP1 to the same area of a cell where the vitamin was absorbed - in the fatty area of the cell membranes. PHLPP1, which is a known tumor suppressor, then inactivated Akt.

Chen says this is a new finding that explains how vitamin E works to prevent cancer, even though people have taken it for years without knowing its anti-cancer mechanism.

The Ohio State University
March 14, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile