Vitamin E and Prostate Cancer

For better health, get your intake of this valuable vitamin through food, but steer clear of supplements.

Medically reviewed in January 2022

Updated on January 28, 2022

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men and the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. So it's understandable to want to do all you can to avoid it. If you’re thinking of vitamin E supplements, though, stop right there.

What the research shows
For years, vitamin E supplements were thought to help prevent prostate cancer, among other conditions. But data from a long-term study suggest just the opposite.

The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT)—the largest-ever prostate cancer prevention study, started in 2001—concluded that vitamin E supplements may actually increase prostate cancer risk.

The study involved over 35,000 men across North America. They were randomly assigned to take vitamin E supplements, selenium supplements, both, or a placebo. Then researchers followed them over time, noting how many cases of prostate cancer occurred and in whom.

The initial findings, released in 2008, suggested that vitamin E supplements didn't prevent prostate cancer. On the contrary, there was a small increase in cases. Researchers suspected, but were not certain, that increase was due to chance.

By 2011, though, the data were worrisome. The study found that taking a 400 IU vitamin E supplement daily increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent. It’s not clear why. (A later analysis found that the selenium supplements may have been raising risk in some men, as well.)

How much vitamin E do you really need?
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that occurs naturally in many foods, including almonds, sunflower seeds, and spinach. It’s important for good health, and the recommended daily allowance is 22 IU (or 15 milligrams). But you shouldn’t be worried about getting too much from your diet. Compared with supplements, there’s nowhere near as much of the vitamin in foods.

For example, an ounce of dry roasted almonds contains 6.8 milligrams or about 45 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin E. A typical supplement, by comparison, might contain over 270 milligrams, or 400 IU, which is over ten times more than the daily recommended amount.

The bottom line? Skip vitamin E supplements for prostate cancer prevention.

In any case, age is among the strongest prostate cancer risk factors, and no supplements can reverse that. Up to eighty percent of diagnosed prostate cancer cases occur in men ages 65 and older.

Whatever your age, maintain your best health by exercising regularly, managing stress (meditating for 10 minutes a day helps), and eating a healthy diet. You know the drill: Get lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and little or no added sugar. Also avoid trans fats and saturated fats, such as those from red meat, poultry skin, or full-fat dairy.

Article sources open article sources

Lippman SM, Klein EA, Goodman PJ, et al. Effect of selenium and vitamin E on risk of prostate cancer and other cancers: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2009;301(1):39-51.
Klein EA, Thompson IM Jr, Tangen CM, et al. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA. 2011;306(14):1549-1556.
Kristal AR, Darke AK, Morris JS, et al. Baseline selenium status and effects of selenium and vitamin e supplementation on prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014;106(3):djt456.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Vitamin E. Accessed January 26, 2022.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin E. Updated March 26, 2021
American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer. Last revised January 12, 2022.

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