May 17, 2011 — Beta-carotene, selenium, and folic acid taken at high doses in some dietary supplements has been associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Despite the fact that many dietary supplements are marketed with anti-cancer claims, there is now evidence that high doses of dietary supplements may actually increase the risk of cancer.
All cancer patients should consult a physician before taking a dietary supplement, no matter how harmless the supplement seems.
The researchers found that high doses of antioxidants can actually increase cancer rates for some populations. Smokers who take high doses of beta carotene have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Dr. Tim Byers, who authored the study, warns that “we have a window into less than half of the biology of what these nutrients are doing.” He said, “We say generalized things about them, calling them an antioxidant or an essential mineral, but true biology turns out to be more complex than that. The effects of these supplements are certainly now limited to the label we give them. And, as we’ve seen, sometimes the unintended effects include increased cancer risk.”
Unlike drugs, dietary supplement manufacturers do not need to conduct safety studies or prove that their products are effective. Byers and his colleagues suggest that high doses of dietary supplements are neither a food nor a drug, but inhabit a middle-ground. Unfortunately, Byers and his colleagues are concerned that federal regulators are not providing clear guidance to the public about the use of dietary supplements to lower cancer risk.
Dietary supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make unsubstantiated health claims, but the practice is widespread. Supplements containing massive amounts of vitamins or minerals (far exceeding the recommended daily allowance) are sold as a way to ward off chronic disease, including cancer — despite the fact that there is little to no scientific evidence that supplements reduce cancer risk.
Another problem with marketing dietary supplements to cancer patients is that some supplements interfere with cancer treatments. One study found that Vitamin C supplements blunted the effectiveness of chemotherapy by 30-70%.
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