December 29, 2011

Do Supplements Cause Cancer?!

Five months into this dietetic internship and I’m in my 11th week of clinical.  I recently completed the oncology unit, which was one of my favorites so far.  Unfortunately, many of the patients I saw during my rotation through oncology did not have good prognoses:   some people in the veteran (and general) population do not seek preventative care and so are diagnosed with cancer at a later stage which makes it harder to treat.  That being said, there is still a lot we can do; especially nutritionally speaking while going through treatment.  I got to coach patients through radiation (and sat in on several treatment sessions!), chemotherapy, and tube feedings;  I even got to observe a tube being placed surgically in a patient’s stomach.  Though some of these therapies and their repercussions are life changing and can be scary,  I also saw some patients recover, get out of the hospital and move on with their lives - healthy!   

 During my time in the oncology rotation, I reviewed an interesting article about the effects of supplementation on cancer risk.  I believe it is now common knowledge that fruits and vegetables can help decrease cancer risk.  Some people wonder:  wouldn’t it be easy and wonderful to be able to bottle those compounds and take them in pill form?  The concentration would be much higher and you wouldn’t have to eat so “healthy” all the time…..unfortunately, this desire keeps getting shot down again and again.  The study I read was huge – over 77,000 people in Washington State.  It observed lung cancer risk in people who took different supplements:  retinol (vitamin A), beta carotene, lutein, and lycopene (all antioxidant compounds found naturally in foods such as fruits and vegetables).   Results were not in favor of supplementing with individual compounds:  lung cancer risk rose for all supplement users.  The researchers hypothesized that the body absorbs an individual compound very readily, and that this type of absorption could actually block other healthy compounds from being absorbed along with them!  Of course, there are other factors related to cancer risk and its difficult to study the exact effects of any supplement or food product because they are so intertwined with other factors in our lives.  However, I believe that the bottom line, once again, is don’t take the easy way out by popping pills!  Stock up in the produce aisle when you’re shopping and incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal if you want to help your body ward off cancer.  And don't smoke......

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I have been suspicious of and have avoided supplements (except vitamin D as prescribed by my ND) for years now. Isolating a compound out of a natural food has just never made any sense to me!