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Vitamin E supplements help prevent breast cancer

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Sept 15, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- To be exact, not all types of vitamin E help prevent breast cancer.  Rutgers University researchers recently published a study in Cancer Prevention Research saying that γ, and δ tocopherol may help prevent hormone-dependent breast cancer.
There are a few types of vitamin E or tocopherol, designated as α, β, γ, and δ.   Several large cancer prevention studies indicated that  α tocopherol does not provide any protection against breast cancer, but laboratory studies suggest that δ- and γ-tocopherol may be more effective, according to the background information in the study report.

A. K. Smolarek and colleagues at Rutgers University Department of Chemical Biology conducted two animal model studies of breast cancer to assess chemopreventive activities of individual tocopherols in diets containing 0.3 percent of tocopherol (α-, δ- or γ-)  or a γ-tocopherol rich mixture (γ-TmT).

Tocopherols did not prevent human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER2/ney)-driven tumorigenesis, but δ- and γ-tocopherols were able to inhibit hormone-dependent breast cancer growth in N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (NMU)-treated female Sprague Dawley rats.

The mutagen-treated rats in the control group developed an average tumor mass of 10.6 gram at 11 weeks of dietary intervention, compared to  7.2 grams and 7.1 grams in mutagen-treated rats using diets with δ- or γ-tocopherol, respectively.

Rats supplemented with δ- or γ-tocopherol had 42% or 32% less breast cancers, respectively, compared to those rats untreated with vitamin E.

In contrast, α-tocopherol did not decrease tumor mass or multiplicity. 

In breast cancers, a number of biomarkers increased including the protein levels of pro-apoptotic markers (BAX, cleaved-caspase 9, cleaved-caspase 3, cleaved-PARP). But  δ-tocopherol, γ-tocopherol and γ-TmT inhibited anti-apoptotic markers (Bcl2, XIAP).

Additionally,  δ- and γ-tocopherols  affected markers of cell proliferation (PCNA, PKCα), survival (PPARγ, PTEN, phospho-Akt) and cell cycle (p53, p21).

The researchers concluded "Both δ- and γ-tocopherols, but not α tocopherol, appear to be promising agents for the prevention of hormone-dependent breast cancer."

Breast cancer is expected in 230,000 women in 2012 in the United States and the disease and its implications is expected to kill nearly 40,000 in the U.S. in the same year.

Breast cancer is in many cases preventable by following a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet.  According to an authorative organization, two most important risk factors for breast cancer are medical radiation used in diagnostics and cancer treatment and hormone therapies.  On the other hand,  taking vitamin D supplements and other supplement may help drastically reduce the risk of developing the disease.

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