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Vitamin E and cancer: Does it help or harm?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Vitamin E and cancer protection comes from food, not supplements.

There is new evidence that foods with vitamin E can prevent colon, lung, prostate and breast cancer. Previous studies found taking vitamin E supplements was linked to an increase risk of prostate cancer, making the vitamin’s role in cancer prevention confusing. Scientists at the Center for Cancer Prevention Research, at Rutgers Mario School of Pharmacy, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey say vitamin E found in soybean, canola and corn oils and nuts do prevent cancers, making it important to stock up on disease preventing foods rather than relying on taking supplements.

Vitamin E in food different from supplements

The researchers say the form of vitamin E found in food - gamma and delta-tocopherols – differs from alpha- tocopherols that are in supplements, explaining why food helps us fight cancer better than a pill.

A recent study showed vitamin E supplements seem to raise the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men by 17% in a large investigation conducted in the U. S. and Canada.

Vitamin E provides the body with an immune boost and also promotes skin and eye health.

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Green leafy vegetables, nuts, eggs and fortified cereals are all good sources of the vitamin that can prevent damage to cells. Oils rich in the vitamin include canola, soybean and corn oil. Olive and sunflower oil are also good choices.

Chung S. Yang, director of the Center for Cancer Prevention Research said in a press release, 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.” The scientists used animal models for testing vitamin E’s properties for preventing colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer.

When animals are exposed to cancer-causing substances, the group that was fed these tocopherols in their diet had fewer and smaller tumors,” Yang said in a news commentary. “When cancer cells were injected into mice these tocopherols also slowed down the development of tumors.”

The finding is important and good news for understanding how nutrients from food can help fight disease. The new study shows vitamin E in the diet might help protect from lung, prostate, colon and breast cancer.

Cancer Prevention Research
Commentary: Does Vitamin E prevent or promote cancer?
March, 2012

Image credit: Morguefile