Vitamin E found in oils, nuts and other foods has significant cancer-fighting properties, but the form typically found in supplements doesn’t have the same benefits, a new study has found.
A team of scientists – from the Center for Cancer Prevention Research, at Rutgers Mario School of Pharmacy, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey – found two forms of vitamin E (known as gamma and delta-tocopherols) found in soybean, canola and corn oils as well as nuts can prevent colon, lung, breast and prostate cancers. But the form of vitamin E (alpha- tocopherol) most commonly used in vitamin E supplements, doesn’t offer the same protections.
The study -- published in in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research – is based on an analysis of vitamin studies in humans and animals.
Researchers noted questions of whether vitamin E prevents or promotes cancer have been widely debated in scientific journals and the media.
"There are studies suggesting that vitamin E actually increases the risk of cancer and decreases bone density," said lead researcher Chung S. Yang. "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."
Yang said Rutgers scientists conducting animal studies for colon, lung, breast and prostate cancer found that the forms of vitamin E in vegetable oils prevent cancer in animal models. But Yang noted one of the largest prostate cancer studies in the United States and Canada found the most commonly used form of vitamin E supplements not only did not prevent the disease but may actually increase the risk of developing it.
This is why, Yang said, it is important to distinguish between the different forms of vitamin E and conduct more research on its cancer preventive and other health effects.
"For people who think that they need to take vitamin E supplements," Yang said, "taking a mixture of vitamin E that resembles what is in our diet would be the most prudent supplement to take."