by Tony Isaacs
The National Cancer Institute has announced a halt to its $114 million study of whether vitamin E and selenium can prevent prostate cancer, saying that they cannot and that they might even cause slightly elevated risks for more prostate cancer and diabetes. However, upon further examination it becomes apparent that the study was flawed to begin with due to the forms of vitamin E and selenium chosen for the study.
Instead of the natural forms of the two supplements, the study opted to use a synthetic petroleum based form of vitamin E and a form of selenium derived from industrial ore processing byproducts. The flawed study also illustrates how easy it is to manipulate studies on natural alternatives to the highly profitable drugs and treatments of mainstream medicine.
The safety panel for the 35,000-man study called SELECT (SELenium and vitamin ECancer prevention Trial) called for a halt when an early look at the data showed no benefit for the treatment "at least not in the formulations and dosages used in the study." And therein lies the rub. While the dosages may have been sufficient (400 milligrams of vitamin E and 200 micrograms of selenium), the formulations were not.
Study participants were told to stop taking the two pills they'd been taking every day since the trial opened in 2001. The men received either vitamin E (400 milligrams) and selenium (200 micrograms), vitamin E and placebo, selenium and placebo, or placebos alone.
The study was initially undertaken because two previous even larger studies showed that taking vitamin E resulted in a 32% lower rate of prostate cancer and taking selenium resulted in a 60% lower incidence of prostate cancer.
How is it then possible that a new study would find no reductions, and even slight increases in prostate cancer as well as diabetes from taking a common vitamin and mineral? The answer is that it is not possible unless the study was flawed, perhaps deliberately so - which has been known to happen over and over when it comes to natural competition to patented drugs and treatments.
Perhaps not accidentally, the flawed design of the study and the ordering of the halt not only enabled the NCI to state that there was no benefit from taking the two supplements, but even go so far as to include a warning of sorts:
There were slightly more prostate cancers in men taking vitamin E alone, and slightly more diabetes in men taking only selenium. But neither finding was statistically significant, meaning they were likely due to chance.
"The data to date suggest, but does not prove, that vitamin E may slightly increase the chance of getting prostate cancer, and that selenium may increase the chance of getting diabetes mellitus," warns a letter sent to study participants by the Southwest Oncology Group, which ran the NCI-funded study.
Absolutely ridiculous to even think that natural vitamins and minerals found in a healthy diet would not be beneficial, much less be detrimental!
In addition to the caveat about the formulations and dosages and the results of the previous studies, the key paragraphs in the story, as reported in WebMD, appear to be these:
"The SELECT findings dash hopes raised by these earlier studies, says Edward M. Messing, MD, professor and chairman of urology and deputy director of the Cancer Center at the University of Rochester, N.Y. Messing serves as a SELECT study investigator.
"I am afraid it will be the end of the story for large trials of vitamin E and selenium to prevent prostate cancer," Messing tells WebMD. "For vitamin E, that is unfortunate. Probably if given in a more effective form, it would be a protective or even therapeutic agent."
Those revealing paragraphs indicate that the end of the study will be the end of large trials for vitamin E and selenium - which was very likely a desired result, since it will now be highly unlikely that vitamin E or selenium will be studied in the forms that actually offer therapeutic and preventive benefit.
When one examines the study itself, it becomes apparent what Dr. Messing was referring to.
Instead of using the natural form of Vitamin E considered most beneficial for health, d-alpha-tocopherol acetate, they used dl-alpha-tocopherol acetate. The "d" designation in front of the "alpha" indicates that the products are derived from natural sources such as vegetable oils or wheat germ. A prefix of "dl", such as in dl-alpha- tocopherol, shows that the vitamin has been synthesized from a petroleum base.
Research has shown that the synthetic form of alpha-tocopherol acetate is considerably less effective than its natural equivalent in raising the blood plasma level of Vitamin E and in preventing peroxide hemolysis even when ingested at equivalent IU levels.
Vitamin E, in the natural form of alpha-tocopherol, is most valued for it's anti-oxidant properties. Several other functions of alpha-tocopherol have been identified that are not likely related to its antioxidant capacity. For instance, alpha-tocopherol is known to inhibit the activity of protein kinase C, an important cell-signaling molecule. Alpha-tocopherol appears to also affect the expression and activities of molecules and enzymes in immune and inflammatory cells. Additionally, alpha-tocopherol has been shown to inhibit platelet aggregation and to enhance vasodilation.
Likewise, the form of selenium used for the test, selenomethionine, though the most popular form of selenium found in supplements, is most commonly produced from selenide in sulfide ores such as those of copper, silver, or lead. It is obtained as a byproduct of the processing of these ores, from the anode mud of copper refineries and the mud from the lead chambers of sulfuric acid plants. These muds can be processed by a number of means to obtain free selenium.
The best form of selenium is the organic form found in the diet. Brazil nuts contain the highest amounts of selenium than any other known food type. It is also possible to obtain selenium through other nuts, grains and seafood. Livestock who are allowed to graze on grains grown in soil containing selenium, will typically contain selenium within their meat.
The many benefits of selenium include its ability to boost the body’s immune system and protect it against disease such as heart disease. Additionally, selenium assists the body with maintaining proper control of the thyroid gland.
Individuals who have a deficiency in selenium are often reported as becoming much more susceptible to infections, bacteria and other illnesses.
It is not surprising to see yet another flawed mainstream study regarding vitamins and minerals. In any such study, the keys to examine any such study are usually:
1. Who funded the study
2. How were the study participants screened
3. What forms of supplements were used (normally the least effective and synthetic forms are used in such studies)
4. What were the dosage amounts (normally much less than a therapeutic dose is administered
5. Whether the items studied would represent a threat to the profits of mainstream drugs and treatments.
In the case of the SELECT study on Vitamin E and selenium, the fact that the study was funded by the National Cancer Institute is itself reason for suspicion, since the cancer and drug industry ties to the NCI are well documented. Screening and dosage amounts aside, the forms of vitamin E and selenium chosen doomed the study from the start.
In the final analysis, it appears that the halted SELECT study, rather than being a valid study on the prostate fighting properties of vitamin E and selenium is merely the latest in a line of flawed studies that make it appear that vitamins and minerals which might pose a risk to the profits of the big pharma companies patented drugs and mainstream treatments are unproven or unsafe. And once again we see the old truism that if something works which is also safe, cheap and non-patentable, it will not likely ever be approved or accepted by mainstream medicine.
Note: Although many would not recommend either Vitamin E or selenium in mega therapeutic doses or as primary cancer fighters, adequate amounts of both are essential in maintaining good health in modest amounts and are likely helpful in fighting cancer for that reason alone, not to mention the benefits found in previous studies. Selenium is particularly helpful for maintaining good liver health - a critical consideration when fighting cancer.
WebMD (the article "Prostate Cancer Prevention Study Halted - Vitamin E, Selenium No Help in Preventing Prostate Cancer")
Linus Pauling Institute (Vitamin E)
International Health News ("Alpha-tocopherol: The Great Protector")
Wikipedia (For the different forms of selenium)
www.nutritional-supplement-guides.com (For natural sources of selenium)
I like your input on vitamin E. L-selenomethionine is a good anti-oxidant but it does not appear to be the best form of selenium for fighting cancer.
Different Forms of Selenium
Inorganic forms of selenium such as sodium selenite have proven
more effective at fighting cancer than the commonly used organic form,
selenomethionine, yet selenomethionine was more effective at
increasing selenium tissue levels and glutathione peroxidase activity.
Because cells cannot distinguish selenomethionine from the essential
amino acid methionine, some selenomethionine becomes incorporated into
general body proteins, increasing tissue selenium levels.
Selenomethionine general proteins have no anticancer activity
while sodium selenite is more frequently metabolized to the toxic
metabolite hydrogen selenide (H2Se). Hydrogen selenide does have
anticancer effects but it is more toxic than selenomethionine. Its
primary mode of killing cancer cells (and at high levels, normal
cells) is through the process of cell necrosis. Cell necrosis provokes
inflammation and may kill healthy cells along with cancer cells.
More recent anticancer research has focused on the compound
Methyselenocysteine. Methyselenocysteine is found naturally in some
vegetables including garlic, brassicas, leeks, and onions, especially
when these are grown in high selenium soil. Methylselenocysteine is
easily converted to methylselenol which has been demonstrated to be an
effective anticancer form of selenium. Rather than killing cancer
cells by necrosis, methylselenol kills cancer cells through apoptosis.
Apoptosis is a orderly process of cellular self-destruction that does
not provoke inflammatory responses. Methylselenol is also known to
inhibit angiogenesis in beginning cancer tumors. Angiogenesis, the
creation of new blood vessels, is necessary for cancer cells to grow
into a tumor.
Methylselenocysteine does not accumulate in the body and is
considered to be non-toxic.