Dietary supplements increase cancer risk

By | May 16, 2012

Dietary supplements increase cancer risk

Erika Matich – Beta-carotene, selenium and folic acid – taken up to three times their recommended daily allowance, these supplements are probably harmless. But taken at much higher levels as some supplement manufacturers suggest, these three supplements have now been proven to increase the risk of developing a host of cancers.

“It’s not that these nutrients are toxic – they’re essential and we need them, but we need them in a certain balance,” says Tim Byers, MD, MPH, professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health and associate director for prevention and control at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

Byers is senior author of a commentary recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that discusses the clinical and policy implications of the increased cancer risk from high dose dietary supplements.

“We have a window into less than half of the biology of what these nutrients are doing,” Byers says. “We say generalized things about them, calling them an antioxidant or an essential mineral, but true biology turns out to be more complex than that. The effects of these supplements are certainly not limited to the label we give them. And, as we’ve seen, sometimes the unintended effects include increased cancer risk.”

Currently the FDA regulates dietary supplements as food, but, as Byers and colleagues suggest, supplements, especially at high doses, are more accurately described as inhabiting a mid-ground between food and drugs. Like drugs, supplement ingredients are biologically active – sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.

“We need to do a better job as a society in ensuring that the messages people get about value versus risk is accurate for nutritional supplements,” Byers says. “My conclusion is that taking high doses of any particular nutrient is more likely to be a bad thing than a good thing.”

via Dietary supplements increase cancer risk.

We are operating in the dark.  What we need is an easy way to test and better guidelines on what optimal levels.

0 thoughts on “Dietary supplements increase cancer risk

  1. Sepp Hasslberger

    It is true – we are operating in the dark.

    While I would sharply disagree with the conclusion of Byers that “taking high doses of any particular nutrient is more likely to be a bad thing than a good thing”, I do agree that nutrients for the most part act in synergy. That is why it’s important that, if we increase intake of one substance we should increase a spectrum of other, connected ones as well.

    Unfortunately research does not generally look into nutrient synergies and that is why we’re still operating in the dark on this one.

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