Cancer and Nutritional Supplements

Apr 16, 2020 | Tammy Adams | @tammyfad


There are many tools for good health. Some are well-documented and include physical activity, sleep, connection to others and healthy nutrition.  We also often receive information from our friends, family and the internet, also claiming to point the way to good health. Some of this information is accurate and based on research. Other information may look and sound credible, but is not.

One area where there is a lot of conflicting data is the role of dietary supplements. Since we know healthy nutrition provides a wide-range of nutrients that may help you regain your strength, rebuild tissue and feel well, it may seem logical that taking some of these nutrients in high dose as a supplement could provide extra benefit. But in most cases, your best bet is to work with your health care team and try to optimize your nutrition to obtain these needed nutrients in your diet from a food source.

Taking nutritional supplements, high dose vitamins and minerals may actually be dangerous to your health. Some dietary supplements could increase your risk of bleeding, which may be harmful if you are having surgery. Other supplements, such as high dose vitamins and minerals, can interfere with your cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Some supplements take the same pathway into the cell as our chemotherapy drugs so this interference may cancel out the chemotherapy or may increase its effects so you may get toxic side effects. Some supplements are antioxidants and may have a protective effect on both healthy and cancer cells. This may decrease the effectiveness of radiation therapy on cancer cells. Typically, eating foods that have antioxidants may not interfere with cancer therapies, but supplements usually contain higher dosages and may cause problems.

On the other hand, if you have a deficiency in a vitamin or mineral, you may benefit from a supplement. Your health care provider may check lab values to determine what your body needs and prescribe a supplement that meets your needs without interfering with your chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Discuss all of your medications, supplements, vitamins, minerals or any other substances you are taking with your health care provider. Many cancer centers have registered dieticians and other health care providers that can provide accurate and safe education on nutrition and supplements.

Mayo Clinic Minute Video
National Cancer Institute
National Institute of Health
Oncology and Nutrition information on Antioxidants

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