I couldn't believe what I saw on the news the other night: Diane Sawyer -- in her most solemn Evening Anchor Voice -- announced that vitamin E could increase the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent.
Of course, I immediately popped open my computer to see what the fuss was all about it and all I can say is: Serves me right for watching the evening news!
The study that supposedly "proves" vitamin E can boost cancer risk is being billed as a double-blind, placebo-controlled piece of research -- in other words, the gold standard of science.
But that's not quite the whole story here -- because in this case, the "gold standard" is more like a piece of gold-colored tin.
First, the 17 percent boost in risk is actually only a little bit beyond the margin of error. With a difference of just 1.6 cancer cases per 1,000 men per year, the association is weak at best.
Second, the difference in risk disappeared altogether in one of the groups of men: those who took vitamin E with the mineral selenium. If the researchers really believed the study proves that E boosts the cancer risk, then they should be singing the praises of selenium for lowering it.
Of course, that didn't happen.
But there's a third point here that calls into question anything and everything uncovered by the study: The "gold standard" part actually ended years ago -- with no results at all!
The researchers pulled the plug after an average of 5.5 years of followup despite the fact that 5.5 years is practically no time at all when it comes to prostate cancer, which is notoriously slow to appear and even slower to grow.
The new numbers come from an additional 18 months of follow-up -- and during that time, the men were no longer getting vitamins OR placebos as study subjects.
So now instead of a clear conclusion, all we have are more question marks: Did the men who were on the placebo start taking real vitamins after the study? Did the men who had been given free vitamins by the study stop? Did they keep at it but switch doses or blends? Did stopping vitamins, instead of taking them, actually case the increase in risk?
But there's no question over vitamin E: Despite what you've heard, your body needs it -- and even the government says most of us don't get enough.
In other words, keep taking your supplements.