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So you thought vitamins were always good for you?

This week's BMJ summarises the results of a trial reported in JAMA which had a surprising outcome. The trial was started in 2001 to see whether supplements of selenium and vitamin E would protect men against prostate cancer in more that 35,000 healthy middle-aged men.

What happened was just the opposite: far from reducing the incidence of prostate cancer, the supplements increased the risk of cancer. Men who took the supplements were 17% more likely to develop the disease than those who took placebo. This corresponds to 1.6 extra cases for every 1000 men treated. The incidence of other types of cancer was not affected.

About half of all middle-aged and older men in the USA take supplements containing vitamin E.

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