A major component of vitamin E in the U.S. diet, gamma-tocopherol, may be a factor in reducing the risk of prostate cancer, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The prostate is a male sex gland that is located between the bladder and the rectum. Prostate cancer occurs commonly in older men and is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. Prostate cancer is typically a disease of aging. It may persist undetected for many years without causing symptoms. In fact, most men die with prostate cancer not from prostate cancer.
Because prostate cancer develops over such a long period of time, any area that holds promise for prevention must be explored. It is currently believed that environmental factors may play a bigger role than genetic factors in the development of prostate cancer. Diet is one environmental factor that can be modified with the hope of reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer.
One multi-center study performed in Maryland explored the relationship between prostate cancer and three micronutrients: alpha-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol and selenium. Researchers used plasma and toenail samples to measure the levels of the three micronutrients in 117 men with prostate cancer and 233 men with no evidence of cancer.
The results indicated that the three micronutrients were associated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. The strongest association was observed for gamma-tocopherol. The risk of developing prostate cancer was five times lower for the men who had the highest fifth of gamma-tocopherol levels when compared with the men who had the lowest fifth. The risk of developing prostate cancer declined with increasing concentrations of gamma-tocopherol. Selenium and alpha-tocopherol were also associated with a reduced risk for prostate cancer, but only in the presence of higher concentrations of gamma-tocopherol.
Alpha-tocopherol is the major form of vitamin E in supplements, whereas gamma-tocopherol is the main form of vitamin E in the diet. Since supplementation with alpha-tocopherol may actually lower gamma tocopherol levels, the researchers concluded that balancing these two micronutrients might be an important factor in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. The results of this study are promising and more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between gamma-tocopherol and prostate cancer. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol 92, No 24, 2000)
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