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Can Supplements Help Prevent Cancer?


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Is it really possible to prevent precursors to one of the deadliest killers in the US with the best anti-cancer supplements? For the last several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed cancer as one of the 10 main causes of death in the country. Some health experts predict it will bypass the nation’s number one killer, heart disease, in the future. While some naturopathic physicians and health professionals believe supplements and vitamins have cancer-fighting properties that can help, do they actually work? 

Cancer — A Look at the Stats

Cancer is a group of diseases distinguished by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells that can impact most life-sustaining biological systems. An estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the US, and 609,640 people will die from the disease this year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Fortunately, there are an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the US. That number is expected to rise to 20.3 million by 2026. In 2017, the estimated expenditures for cancer care in this nation were $147.3 billion, and those numbers are expected to climb as more innovative, sophisticated, and expensive treatments become part of the standards of care, according to the NCI.

The Best Anti-Cancer Foods

Eating a nutritious diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer, including breast and colorectal cancers. Getting your fruits and veggies, as well as legumes, nuts and seeds, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and whole grains, helps your body get functional components, such as omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, and antioxidants. Specifically, superfoods, such as avocados, acai berries, almonds, and blueberries, are important. They cut down on damage caused by oxidation, which is a natural process that leads to the cell and tissue damage that may contribute to some diseases and inflammation. These functional components can be delivered in concentrated levels through supplements.

Lisa Matejka, a naturopathic physician and energy worker at New Moon Cancer Care, encourages people to follow cancer-fighting diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, keto diet, and raw vegan diet. The best type of diet depends on the person and his or her health. People should abstain from diets rich in red meat, such as beef and lamb, as well as processed food, like deli meats and hot dogs. These foods can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. 

In addition to diet, Matejka told, “Consume an arsenal of supplements that is right for your particular case based on the advice of your health care professional.”

Can anti-cancer supplements help prevent cancer?

Susan Domcheck, MD, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, said research does not support that supplements can decrease a person’s chances of cancer.

“The most important lifestyle factors associated with a reduced risk of cancer include not smoking, minimizing alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet (high fiber, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed foods), and exercising regularly,” Domchek said. “Unfortunately, there are no good data to show that supplements lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”

On the other hand, Matejka pointed out that supplements for cancer prevention have “a broad effect, such as anti-inflammatories or antioxidants, which would have an overall positive effect on health.”

How can supplements help your health?

Although there isn’t one specific supplement that fights, cures, or prevents cancer, there is research that shows that some supplements may help prevent medical conditions that can lead to cancer. For example, research has shown that fish oil can suppress the growth of polyps. Polyps are abnormal tissue growths that most often grow in the colon, but also develop in the stomach, cervix, rectum, uterus, throat and ear canal. It is not abnormal for individuals to have polyps. In many cases, they are benign. 

However, they can also indicate colon and other cancers. In fact, a history of polyps in the colon is one of the primary risks of colon cancer. Polyps often have no symptoms, and they are typically found during routine screenings, such as colonoscopies. Once those screenings are done, benign polyps can be removed so they don’t have a chance to turn cancerous. Supplements that contain omega-3 fish oil, vitamin D, selenium, and other ingredients have antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties that may help prevent health conditions that are precursors to cancer.

What to Look for in a Supplement

While the efficacy of anti-cancer supplements has not been proven, when choosing a supplement, Matejka said there are notable ingredients that should be avoided, including artificial preservatives, colors, dyes, and sweeteners. Fillers, such as hydrogenated oils, should also be avoided because they are associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes and inflammation.

She added that potential unwanted ingredients can show up in products that don’t undergo further testing, including heavy metals, solvent residues, aflatoxins, herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, PCBs, dioxins, histamine, and melamine. Most importantly, Matejka encouraged people to seek the advice of their trusted health care professionals when making important decisions regarding their health and well-being, especially when it comes to a disease as dangerous as cancer.

She added, “Brand names of supplements matter, as well. ‘You get what you pay for’ is very applicable here. Cheap supplements from mainstream grocery stores or shopping centers will be derived from cheap sources, be potentially contaminated, contain filler, and may contain very little of the active constituents that you are buying it for to perform their specific function in the body. In these instances, the supplements are a waste of money as they are not of the quality needed to have the desired effect.”

As always, check with your doctor before taking a new supplement and consult with your health provider for any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Scroll down to see the anti-cancer supplements for overall health.

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