Do Supplements Cause Testicular Cancer?
Recently you may have seen a study doing the rounds in the media regarding “muscle building supplements” being linked to testicular cancer. The results were published in the British Journal of Cancer here on the 31st March and have gone rampant since through many health network, social media and even mainstream media outlets.
The study was conducted by interviewing people diagnosed with Testicular Cell Germ Cancer (TCGG) which is the most common form of tumour forming cancer in young men.
What were they asked?
1. If the person had used “Muscle Building Supplements”
2. If so, at what age did they start?
3. How many supplements had they used?
4. How long were they using the supplements for?
Some other risk factor type questions were asked regarding lifestyle, ethnicity & education.
What did the researchers find?
Essentially the researchers found slightly increased risks in taking multiple “Muscle Building Supplements”, starting at an older age (over 25) and in taking them long term (more than 36 months).
When interpreting the results of a study like this its easy to jump to the conclusion that taking a supplements causes testicular cancer but that’s not the case. The aim of a study such as this is to investigate and find if a link exists, even if it is vague. It is then that the scientific community will do some controlled studies around specific supplements and any the development of TCGG.
What are the issues with this research?
There are a couple of glaring issues with this research as well as the reaction by people on social media, mainstream media and health communities:
1. The category of “Muscle Building Supplements” is so large its very easy to generalise. It could easily encompass anything from Anabolic Steroids and Human Growth Hormone to Whey Protein and Creatine
2. They don’t state the supplements taken, only 3. Realistically it could be anything.
3. The supplements they do state such as Creatine and “Protein” are some of the most studied supplements in the world and there are many studies published and peer reviewed to back up their safety in both short and longer term use.
4. It doesn’t take in to account other lifestyle factors, medications, dietary habits nor does it take in to account quality of the food or any other substances that have been used – this makes the data very general and vague.
5. Androstenedione (Andro) and its inclusion in products appears to really be what the researchers are gunning for. Due to the fact that some of the supplements that these guys may have used possibly contained it (based on label claims) they also count this as a “Muscle Building Supplement”.
Androstenedione is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands and the gonads as an intermediate step in the biochemical pathway that produces the androgen testosterone and the estrogens estrone and estradiol and was very big in the 90’s in the bodybuilding and supplement industry. Find out a little more about it on Wikipedia. It was banned in 2004 in America (where most of our supplements come from) and was banned in 2005 in Australia.
Unfortunately what appears to have happened is that two very different categories of “Muscle Building Supplements” have been lumped together in this research and there could be a link between it and TCGG which could have had many other factors such as trauma, family history and history of infection (1).
Do you continue to take supplements? Are they safe? Will they give you testicular cancer?
I will. This kind of vague research shouldn’t sway you if you’re living a healthy lifestyle. There’s no reason to stop either unless advised by your relevant medical professional.
Creatine and Whey Protein have been around for a while now and there is plenty of research showing the safety of creatine.
Ultimately if you’re concerned about cancer of the testes there is more info here from the Cancer Council.
Credit where its due – Kamal Patel – Examine.com – for providing an always accurate breakdown of the research and facts.