What dictates how vitamin E supplements affect cancer risk?

What dictates how vitamin E supplements affect cancer risk?

There is a longstanding debate as to whether taking vitamin E supplements increases or decreases a person’s risk of developing cancer. A new study suggests that both outcomes are a possibility and also explains why.

photo of vitamin e supplement
What influences vitamin E’s effect on cancer risk? A new study investigates.

Many people believe that taking supplements can improve their well-being and decrease their risk of developing numerous health problems.

However, some recent research has suggested that supplements may not, in fact, bring any health benefits. Certain studies — including this one that Medical News Today covered — have gone so far as to suggest that particular dietary supplements could even harm health.

Still, vitamin supplements remain popular. According to preliminary 2018 data that the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) in the United States released, approximately 78 percent of people in the U.S. believe that the dietary supplement industry is “trustworthy.”

Moreover, as Brian Wommack, senior vice president of communications at CRN, reports, “Three-quarters of Americans take dietary supplements.”

A new study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA has been looking into the effects of vitamin E on cancer risk — both overall, and in relation to specific forms of cancer — and asking what factors might influence that effect.

“Observational studies of people taking vitamin E have reported benefits, and studies in animal models have suggested a protective effect, but when vitamin E supplements were brought into placebo-controlled clinical trials, the results were null,” explains study author Kathryn Hall.

“This made it easy to assume that vitamin E just doesn’t work. But, what we’ve found is that it may have been protective in some and not in others, and that genetic variation is linked to these outcomes,” she adds.

Hall and team’s aim was to understand why vitamin E can be beneficial in some cases, while it may have no effect or even have a negative impact in others. The investigators’ findings appear in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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Genetic makeup offers an explanation

The researchers analyzed the data from the Women’s Health Study (WHS), which looked at the “benefits and risks of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer” in thousands of women from the U.S.


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