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Nutritional supplements and cancer

There is no sound evidence that dietary supplements themselves can prevent cancer. There is evidence, however, that consuming a diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables decreases cancer risk.

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Nutritional supplements may help.

That said, if you are unable to eat – or aren’t able to eat the healthy foods you usually do – adding nutritional supplements to your daily regimen may help your body’s general function by providing the vitamins and minerals it needs. Nutritional supplements can’t take the place of healthy foods, but they may be useful for times when consumption is decreased and a variety of foods is difficult to achieve.

The use of supplements during cancer treatment may be a different story; so, be sure to let your physician know if you are taking any. Interactions between medications and supplements can result in unwanted side effects, including a decrease in the effectiveness of the medication, less medication being absorbed into your system and/or an increase in toxicity – should the supplement cause less of the medication to be eliminated from the body. For example, recent research reports that supplementing with antioxidants can interfere with the effectiveness of radiation and chemo, as they actually inhibit the therapeutic compounds that the treatments produce in the body.

The best, most readily available nutrients are in our food sources, both before and after a cancer diagnosis. If you want to take a supplement, discuss the idea with a physician. Also, don’t overdo it- giving the body an extreme amount of a nutrient in which it is not deficient may be expensive, ineffective or unhealthy. The body usually takes what it needs and excretes the rest, making the buildup of that overloaded nutrient a risk for toxicity.


  • All nutrients work together to keep our bodies healthy.
  • No one vitamin or mineral alone is the answer.
  • A multivitamin may be useful for times when eating well isn’t possible.

In the meantime, try to eat a variety of foods and 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. For more information, follow this link to read about supplement use.

Rachel C. Miller, MS, RD, LD
Registered Dietitian

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