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Lutein, Lycopene, and Selenium Pills

Which of these three has been associated with increased cancer risk?

December 21, 2009 |
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Normally I wouldn’t spend so much time on one topic, but people are always asking me about supplements. Let’s try three at a time. Lutein, a phytonutrient found in dark green leafy veggies, lycopene, found in tomatoes, and selenium, a trace mineral found in nuts and whole grains. Not a single one of these, in pill form, prevented cancer, and one of these three was just found to increase cancer risk when taken in pill form. Which one was worse than just a waste of money, and actually seemed to cause cancer?
It was the lutein pills. There’s no getting around it; we just have to eat our greens, which has thousands of phytonutrients in it. Drug companies are never going to find the right combination, but they don’t need to, because Mother Nature did it for us.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Multivitamins and MortalityAcai to Zucchini: antioxidant food rankingsPreserving Vision Through Diet, and Soymilk: shake it up!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/derbym/ derbym

    I have an allegery (RAST testconfirmed) to Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, coconut and almonds and have been advised to avoid all tree nuts for a while (not seeds).

    I eat mostly raw and used to eat a brazil nut everyday for selenium. Sunflower seeds seem to be the next best think that could be on my diet. I would have to eat 8 cups a day though to get 200mcg!

    Is a selenium deficiency worse than taking supplements? I don’t want to supplement if I can help it. This whole tree nut allergy thing has introduced some serious problems to eating raw for me. Vitamin E is a little tricky but at least attainable.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Selenium is abundant in the plant supply. I wouldn’t concern myself with getting adequate levels of selenium. Eating a variety of whole grains provides sufficient selenium levels. 1 cup of brown rice for example has 27% of our daily value of selenium.
      http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/5707/2

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Multivitamins and Mortality!

  • JTK

    Doctor Greger, I do take Lutein as a supplement (recommended by my optometrist). I read the document from 2nd Pub Med citation from your video “Lutein, Lycopene, and Selenium Pills”. I’m concerned because I’m taking 6 mg of lutein and the study was looking at people who took 1.5 mcg as a mean daily dose.

    “Because lutein supplement use was relatively infrequent in our study
    population, we decided to classify lutein supplement use as nonusers,
    (lutein-containing) multivitamin users, and individual supplement users
    rather than presenting information on average dose and years of use.
    Although there were only 2 lung cancer cases in the individual lutein
    supplement use category, the respective mean and median daily doses
    among users were 1.5 mcg (standard deviation, 0.7) and 1.0 mcg, and only 0.22% of participants had used the individual supplement for 6 years or longer, the results are strongly suggestive of elevated risk associated
    with lutein use. Given that lutein supplements have been used only in
    the past 15 years and only recently at high doses, this potential risk
    factor for lung cancer may be more important than suggested by the
    present study.”

    I tried reading the tables, but got lost in the numbers. Can you reinterpret what this above paragraph is stating in terms of the numbers and percentages?

    Thanks