But does it make a blind bit of difference?


In a newly published paper in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies, the authors report high use of vitamins and supplements among undiagnosed men with a brother who has previously been diagnosed with prostate cancer. But the key question is whether this behavior actually has any beneficial impact on the prevention of prostate cancer.

We know that men with one brother previously diagnosed with prostate cancer are at about twice the normal risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer themselves. There have also been some preliminary data suggesting that men with a family history of prostate cancer have a high rate of vitamin and supplement usage aimed at the prevention of prostate cancer. So Bauer et al. attempted to quantify the degree to which some of these men actually sought to prevent a future diagnosis of prostate cancer through the use of vitamins and supplements.

Their study was based on previously collected data from a cross-sectional study of men with familial and hereditary prostate cancer and their unaffected brothers. Specifically, Bauer et al. identified 542 unaffected men with one or more brothers who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and then interviewed them regarding their use of vitamins and supplements, as well as their motivations for use of these products.

They found the following results:

  • 59.2 percent of the men report ever using one or more vitamins or supplements (including multivitamins)
  • 36.5 percent of the men reported currently using one or more vitamins or supplements (including multivitamins).
  • One-third of the men took a vitamin or supplement that has been targeted (whether justifiably or not) for prostate health or cancer prevention (e.g., green tea, magnesium, male hormones, saw palmetto, selenium, soy, vitamins A, C, E, and zinc).
  • Being younger than an affected brother was strongly associated with vitamin and supplement use (odds ratio [OR] = 1.51).
  • 25 percent of the men reported that information from books or articles was their most common source of information.

Clearly men with a familial history suggesting increased risk for prostate cancer have a high rate of vitamin and supplement use, including products marketed for prostate cancer prevention. However, there is little to no evidence that these products actually affect risk for prostate cancer. Indeed, large, randomized, double-blind clinical trials have clearly shown that use of at least some of these products (e.g., selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D) do not have any affect on risk for prostate cancer diagnosis.

What is missing here — at a minimum — is whether significant dietary change in such men (not just the use of vitamins and supplements) might actually reduce risk for a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Such dietary change can profoundly impact serum levels of many essential nutrients, making the need for additional vitamins and supplements utterly unnecessary.

One Response

  1. My father died of prostate cancer. I have asked several well-regarded doctors what I can do to reduce my odds of getting it. There is no consistency in the responses. Some said take finasteride (or dutasteride). Others, equally well regarded, said that would be the dumbest thing I could do. Some said eat a good balanced diet, but no supplements. Others said keep vitamin D3 levels up, take fish oil, lycopene, etc. The advice is all over the board. So I am left to make some more or less wild guesses. What am I doing? Eating a Mediterranean diet, taking daily vitamin D3, high-quality fish oil and pomegranate extract. I guess the diet is good for me, regardless of its impact on prostate cancer. As for the rest of it, who knows? It probably does not do much harm. I guess.

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