Millions of Americans take dietary supplements to ward off cancer, but is it causing more harm than good?
Health supplements are a 30 billion dollar a year industry. Many people take dietary supplements such as antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin D and calcium to ward off cancer, however a team of US scientists say there is no good evidence that supports such positive effects. In fact, some scientists are suggesting that some antioxidants such as beta carotene, and vitamins C and E may have biological effects that promote cancer, not prevent it. A small number of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been carried out to test the effectiveness of dietary supplements but reported increased risks.
Are Antioxidants Bad?
US authors in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute say that the “supposed benefits of antioxidant supplements are largely a myth” and people are misled by messages from supplement manufacturers, messages claiming health benefits and cancer prevention from their products.
Antioxidants are believed to counter the destructive effects of rogue oxygen molecules called free radicals. These free radicals attack cell membranes, proteins and DNA, and are linked to cancer and heard disease.
Is This True?
Scientists argue these recent claims. A number of animal, laboratory and observational studies show dietary supplements could lower cancer risks but are not confirmed by the “gold-standard” in evidence-based medicine.
Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by supplement manufacturers, said: “It is vital to note that in the UK all supplement claims are strongly regulated and companies cannot make claims that supplements prevent cancer.
“The primary purpose of food supplements is to ensure nutritional sufficiency; they are not intended to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Indeed it is illegal to claim or imply that they could do any of these things.”
While a definitive consensus has not yet been given, it’s best to discuss this with your doctor before starting or stopping any dietary supplement treatments.
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