Dietary supplements and cancer: a treacherous trap

Many cancer patients take dietary supplements on their own. Believing that they are doing something good for themselves, they can cause great harm. You can read why this is so here.

Currently, there is no scientific evidence that the use of dietary supplements and supplements during cancer treatment has a positive effect on the course of therapy. On the contrary: There are indications in the literature of interactions and shortened life spans that need to be taken into account. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from the Fulda University of Applied Sciences in a recent journal publication Antioxidants published study.

Alternative medicine on your own

In 2020 alone, more than 19 million people worldwide were diagnosed with cancer. In the same year, ten million people died from this disease. Thanks to early detection and effective treatment, many types of cancer are now curable, which has contributed to higher survival rates over the years. But the therapy has side effects. Hoping to find relief, many cancer patients use complementary and alternative medicine at their own risk. They often get information from the Internet. In particular, supplements such as some dietary supplements – vitamins, minerals, antioxidants – are widely used.

How often do cancer patients take such supplements? And is there any evidence that taking certain supplements could affect conventional cancer treatment? Prof. Marc Birringer and Paula Krejbich from the Department of Ecotrophology at the Fulda University of Applied Sciences investigated this through a systematic literature search. They looked at 37 studies from 2006 to 2021. Each included more than 1,000 subjects.

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According to these studies, post-diagnosis cancer patients frequently used dietary supplements and supplements (up to 77.2% of respondents), including multivitamins (up to 70%), selected vitamins or minerals such as vitamin C (up to 41.6%) and vitamin E (up to 48%) or certain groups of substances such as antioxidants (up to 80.8%). Dietary supplements were often used by patients during classical therapy and only exceptionally after consultation with medical professionals. However, according to studies, this can lead to problems because dietary supplements and especially antioxidants can interact with conventional therapies.

Dietary supplements can make cancer cells resistant

The reason for this interaction is that many of the established therapies fight cancer cells—mainly or as a side effect—by generating oxidative stress, to which cancer cells can adapt using certain enzyme systems. Dietary supplements such as vitamins, minerals and especially antioxidants, which normally protect healthy cells from oxidative stress, can activate the transcription factor Nrf-2, a cellular defense mechanism against oxidative stress. In this way, dietary supplements can contribute to the resistance of cancer cells.

To better understand the interactions, the research team also looked at how vitamins, minerals and antioxidants interact with different chemotherapy and radiation therapies and analyzed how they might affect the success of conventional cancer treatments. They also included clinical intervention studies that used selected dietary supplements or antioxidants in addition to conventional therapy to minimize side effects.

Interaction instead of positive benefits

“We found no evidence of a positive benefit of taking dietary supplements and supplements during cancer treatment, but we did find evidence of interactions, including reduced life expectancy. These indications should be taken seriously,” the two researchers emphasize and recommend: “Given the high percentage of cancer patients who use dietary supplements, it is important to increase awareness of possible interactions between patients and medical professionals and mutual support. about it in relation to cancer therapy.’

This article is based on a Press Release at the University of Fulda. We have an original publication for you here and referenced in the text.

Image source: Skitterphoto, pexels

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