Men’s Supplements Never Tested Despite Marketed as “Clinically Proven”

Dr. Nicholas G. Zaorsky MD Resident Physician, Radiation Oncology Fox Chase Cancer Center

Dr. Nicholas Zaorsky Interview with:
Dr. Nicholas G. Zaorsky MD
Resident Physician, Radiation Oncology
Fox Chase Cancer Center

Medical Research: What was the motivation for your studies?

Dr. Zaorsky: Men often walk down grocery store aisles and see bottles of pills labeled “men’s health” or “prostate health.” We call these pills “men’s health supplements.” Our goal is to determine what effect (if any) these pills have on the cancer that men are most commonly diagnosed with – that is, prostate cancer.

Medical Research: What is the significance of these findings in simple terms? What are the implications for human health? What would you hope a general audience might take away from these findings?

Dr. Zaorsky:  Men with prostate cancer commonly use these pills because of the high incidence of prostate cancer (about 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with the disease), the stress associated with the diagnosis, the desire to benefit from all potential treatments, and the limited regulation on marketing and sale of the supplements.  Many men believe the supplements will help their cancer or (at worst) do nothing – so what’s the harm?  We found that men’s health supplements have no effect on curing prostate cancer treated with radiation therapy (a common treatment option). Men who took these pills also had no difference in their side effects during or after treatment.  Although we did not see a change in side effects, there have been thousands of cases in the US where supplements have harmed patients.

Medical Research: How might these findings be put to use? What next steps should be taken based on these findings? What could be the potential clinical impact of this research?

Dr. Zaorsky: We hope our findings will inspire three actions.

  • First, we encourage all physicians to routinely ask patients about supplement use and discourage the use of any drug without a diagnosis. We found that 10% of our patients took men’s health supplements; however, when looking at all other types of supplements (for example, multivitamins), this estimate is closer to about a third of all patients.
  • Second, we encourage pharmaceutical companies to stop incorrectly promoting supplements. For example, we found that the men’s health supplements used by our patients were never tested in any studies (despite what was written on their labels); and, the supplements were marketed being “clinically proven,” though the anticipated effect was never provided.
  • Third, we hope our findings will inspire government agencies to enact laws that will regulate the sale of supplements.

Medical Research: Can you simply describe how your studies are novel?

Dr. Zaorsky: This is the first study on the effect of men’s health supplements on men with prostate cancer (the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men).

Medical Research: Were you especially surprised by anything you found? Was there anything else that you found particularly notable about your findings, or anything else in general you’d like to add?

Dr. Zaorsky: We were not surprised by our findings. We suspected that these pills were junk. Our study confirmed our suspicion. 

Medical Research: What are some questions for future research, based on the findings of these studies? How do you plan to follow up on this research? 

Dr. Zaorsky:  We will next explore the effect of multivitamins on prostate cancer.


Men’s health supplement use and outcomes among men receiving definitive intensity modulated radiation therapy for localized prostate cancer

Nicholas G Zaorsky, MD;1 Thomas M Churilla, MD;1 Karen Ruth, MS;2 Shelly B Hayes, MD;1 Mark L Sobczak, MD;1 Mark A Hallman, MD, PhD;1 Marc C Smaldone, MD; 3 David YT Chen, MD;3 Eric M Horwitz, MD1


(1) Department of Radiation Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

(2) Biostatistics and Bioinformatics Facility, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA 

(3) Department of Surgical Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

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Dr. Nicholas G. Zaorsky MD (2015). Men’s Supplements Never Tested Despite Marketed as “Clinically Proven”