Supplements: The popular mineral that may make you more likely to die from cancer

Dr Dawn Harper discusses the symptoms of prostate cancer

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The link between cancer and diet is complex and inconclusive but certain associations should not be ignored. Although many people take natural supplements for their purported health benefits, concerning links to cancer have been found. One study drew a link between selenium supplementation and an increased risk of drying from prostate cancer.

Selenium is a naturally occurring chemical found in plant foods such as vegetables, fish, shellfish, some meats, grains, eggs, brewer’s yeast, and wheat germ.

Although, you should be able to get all the selenium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet, some people choose to take supplements.

Early research in the laboratory showed that selenium stopped cancer cells from growing.

But most of the clinical trials in humans have not produced the same results.

“One study looked at the use of selenium supplements in men following their diagnosis of cancer and found that this supplement may mean that men are more likely to die from their prostate cancer,” reports Cancer Research UK.

“So, doctors don’t advise men to take selenium supplements until they know more.”

According to the charity, there is international research going on looking at the use of selenium supplements for prostate cancer and other types of cancer.

The evidence linking selenium to cancer is far from conclusive.

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In fact, a Cochrane review of the existing literature on the subject found no such link.

This review included 10 trials in which adults were randomly assigned to receive selenium supplements or placebo, and 70 observational studies in which adults were followed over time to determine whether their baseline selenium status was associated with their risk of cancer.

All of the high-quality randomised trials reported no effect of selenium on reducing overall risk of cancer or risk of particular cancers, including the most investigated outcome – prostate cancer.

Some trials unexpectedly suggested that selenium may increase risks of high-grade prostate cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dermatological abnormalities.

Nonetheless, if you take selenium supplements, it’s important not to take too much as this could be harmful.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), taking 350μg or less a day of selenium supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.

“You should be able to get all the selenium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet that includes meat, fish or nuts,” says the DHSC.

How to reduce your risk of cancer

Making some simple changes to your lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

“Around one in three cases of the most common cancers (about 33 percent) could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, keeping to a healthy weight and being more active,” reports Macmillan Cancer Support.

There are therefore some things you can do to lower your risk of developing cancer.

But, as Macmillan Cancer Support points out, you cannot reduce your risk completely through your lifestyle.

Age is a risk factor you cannot modify. 

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