Dietary Supplements May Not Always Be Safe

Prostate Health Supplements – Are They Safe? Are They Effective?

Now, while I don’t want to be discouraging, I would like to bring to your attention a study conducted by two doctors and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, volume 347, Number 25, December 2002, pages 2073 — 2076.

They make the point that billions of dollars every year is spent on dietary supplements, including botanical preparations. There is a wide perception that plant-based medicines, or more accurately, alternative remedies, are inherently safe. Unfortunately there’s plenty of evidence that some compounds are toxic.

For one thing, there’s a lack of standardization and accurate labeling: for example if you were to buy Saw Palmetto, how could you be sure that the purity was good, and that the active ingredient was present in the compound and the level claimed on the container?

The truth is there’s only one way to ensure this is to get it from an supplier with a good reputation. In this regard, PC-SPES is specifically mentioned in the report. This was marketed as a patented herbal preparation to enhance prostate health. It was actually commonly used to treat prostate cancer. And indeed, good reports of how effective this product was appeared in medical journals.

Unfortunately, investigations demonstrated that it contained, among other things, warfarin and diethylstilboestrol. After chemical analysis, the compound was removed from the market.

If you look on Google scholar, you will find plenty of scientific articles about the merits or otherwise of dietary supplements for prostate health, and also for prostate cancer risk reduction.

One article discusses selenium and vitamin E, which are described as the two most popular dietary supplements for supposedly maintaining prostate health and reducing prostate cancer risk. While there’s plenty of evidence that appears to support these two supplements as a useful way of maintaining prostate health, when the data was analysed in more detail by Mark A Moyad of the University of Michigan Medical Center, he found that selenium supplements only provide benefits for a man who had low levels of selenium normally; those who have normal levels of selenium received no benefit from taking supplements.

So in other words, these nutritional prostate supplements can reduce the risk of cancer of the prostate in men who are at higher risk for those who have low plasma levels of selenium.

The same has been found to be true of beta-carotene supplements. While we know that Vitamin E supplements have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer at low or moderate dosages,  in higher doses (which means greater than or equal to 100 IU per day) it may actually be associated with an increased risk of advanced, aggressive or fatal prostate cancer.

So is it a nutritional supplement which is good or bad for the prostate’s health? What appears to be going on here is, in the words of the author, “serious embellishment of study findings leading to an inappropriate use of the supplements”.

How are you to navigate your way through a maze like this? I think the answer probably lies in the conclusion that you should take supplements in moderation. There is no evidence that if you buy high-quality prostate health supplements from reputable supplier you’re putting yourself at risk, and you may well be helping maintain prostate health. We know, for example, that lycopene definitely has a protective effect.

There are also many articles on prostate cancer which talk about risk factors, and I think it’s worth briefly considering them.

Lifestyle Factors and Prostate Health

In considering the lifestyle factors that you might want to adopt to avoid prostate cancer, organic food may be high on the list. The authors of one article in the American Journal of epidemiology reported a study of 55,000 men in Iowa and North Carolina who were responsible for spraying pesticides in farmland.

They discovered that the use of chlorinated pesticides, and the use of methyl bromide, were significantly associated with prostate cancer risk. In fact, several other pesticides also increase the risk of prostate cancer in people who have a family history of the disease. So pesticides are not necessarily completely safe, in that they can promote prostate cancer in certain individuals.

But how you to know if you’re one of the vulnerable groups? Well unless you’re African-American, which is a well known risk factor for prostate cancer, you can’t really, so the answer may be to take precautions in advance: take the right supplements in moderation, eat organic food, maintain a high-level fitness, and prevent weight gain seem to be the key advice. Of course smoking is definitely a risk factor which should be avoided at all costs, and alcohol consumption should be moderate.

Leave a Reply