A few weeks ago, you probably came across a news report that warned "vitamin E increases prostate cancer risk." And hopefully, you ignored it.
This vitamin E and prostate cancer study is pure nonsense.
Published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study was designed to fail. And maybe that's what the researchers wanted all along.
Here's what the researchers did to get their lousy results...
They recruited 35,000 healthy men. Then, they divided the men into four groups. One group received 400 IU of vitamin E for four years. A second group received 200 mcg of selenium. The third group took both vitamin E and selenium. And the fourth group took a placebo.
The researchers stopped the study early, in 2008, because they discovered a slight increase (13 percent) in prostate cancer cases among men taking vitamin E. The team thought this increase might have been due to chance with the men taking vitamin E and prostate cancer developing.
So, they continued to follow all the men through July of this year. After some statistical voodoo, the researchers found that men who took vitamin E alone developed 17 percent more cases of prostate cancer.
Hmmm...17 percent increased risk. Sounds serious, right?
Well, hold on a second.
Unless you have a mathematics degree, you might not realize the study reported a "relative risk" of 17 percent. This is far different from an "absolute risk" and far less reliable.
So why even use relative risk?
Well, I have a hunch.
According to the website stats.org (managed by the mathematicians at George Mason University), relative risk "tells you nothing about the actual risk."
It's a different kind of ratio altogether.
For instance, if the rate of cancer started out as 1 in 100. And then it went up to 2 in 100...that is an increase of 100 percent in "relative" risk. That sounds enormous, doesn't it? To non-statisticians especially, it can make things sound much scarier than they really are.
Even the Mayo Clinic says, "Risk seems greater when put in terms of relative risk." (And again, maybe that's what the study's authors intended.)
But if you only got your health news from USA TODAY or MSNBC, that's all you would know about the study. "Vitamin E pills raise prostate cancer risk by 17 percent!" the headlines screamed.
You wouldn't know that it's a "relative" risk.
And that's not all...
Here's what else is missing from the mainstream reporting...
The real facts you need to know about vitamin E
Over the past five years, I've written about vitamin E 48 times. A few of those times, I even covered studies about vitamin E and prostate cancer. (Remember, the major study from earlier this year that followed 20,000 men with prostate cancer? The researchers found that men with low vitamin E levels in their blood got prostate cancer much more frequently.)
Well, in every one of those 48 articles, do you remember what I told you to remember when you take vitamin E?
It's got to be all-natural vitamin E with mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. This ensures you get the complete spectrum of E vitamins in their natural form.
Synthetic vitamin E just doesn't cut it.
First of all, it's half as effective. Second of all, I don't trust how it's made. They chemically fuse trimethylhydroquinone (TMHQ) with isophytol to make synthetic E. I wouldn't give it to my dog, much less a patient concerned about prostate cancer prevention.
Of course, in the new JAMA study, they gave synthetic vitamin E to the men. (As I said earlier, it's as if they designed the study to fail.)
But not one article I read in the mainstream press mentioned this critical fact.
You have to look up the actual study to get this information! And even then, most folks wouldn't understand it. On the JAMA website, it says the researchers gave the men 400 IU per day of all rac-a-tocopheryl acetate. This stands for "racemic modification." But only a nutritionist (or a biochemist!) would know that's the synthetic form of the vitamin.
So, let's recap...
Why did it make headlines in the first place?
In this study, we've got men taking a poorly-absorbed synthetic vitamin to prevent prostate cancer. (Nutritionists don't ever [and I mean EVER] recommend you take this vitamin in its synthetic form. But let's not get picky, I guess.)
We've also got a 17 percent increase in RELATIVE risk for prostate cancer. (The study's authors admit the initial modest increase could even have been due to chance. But again, I guess I'm being too picky to expect the mainstream press to mention this or that the ABSOLUTE risk for men taking vitamin E is teeny tiny.)
Plus, two other major studies -- cited within the JAMA report -- show no increase in prostate cancer risk for men taking vitamin E.
So why was such a big deal made about this study? Why did it even make headlines?
Call me jaded, but there's one reason why this study made it into the spotlight...and one reason alone.
Plus, each time a bogus study like this makes headlines and strikes fear in the minds of readers, we inch dangerously closer to increased regulation. The average reader doesn't know the difference between absolute and relative risk. They have no idea the study used a synthetic vitamin.
So they think, "gee, maybe we should let the government take more control of natural supplements."
If this trend continues, I fear one day you'll need a doctor's prescription to pick up a bottle of vitamin C. Won't that make Big Pharma happy!?
Stock up now.