Dr. Abrams recalls if supplements are capable of helping a woman fight cancer.
All the studies that are done looking at, “Can we reduce the risk of cancer with supplements,” are suggesting not, suggesting that we are better off consuming a phytonutrient-rich diet. For example, all during the winter, a little yellow in my palms and in my skin. People tell me, “Oh yeah, you have a great tan. Where have you been?” Well, I consume a lot of beta-carotene. I don’t take a beta-carotene supplement because, I hate to admit this as an oncologist, but I used to smoke cigarettes, and huge studies of thousands of people have shown that supplementing with vitamin A or beta-carotene in former cigarette smokers or current smokers leads to an increased risk of lung cancer; seems like totally counter intuitive, but it does.
So, you know, I think we have to be careful with supplements. For my patients with cancer, I do recommend, however, that they all take vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the sunshine vitamin and we all seem to be deficient in vitamin D3, and I think vitamin D3 is very beneficial for aging people and particularly for people with cancer. So I recommend either measuring your level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 or supplementing with 1000 to 2000 International Units of vitamin D3 daily and because I recommend that my patients don’t consume dairy products, I also recommend that people take a calcium-magnesium supplement.
The other supplement that I think is useful in the fight against cancer is omega-3 fatty acids. Again, these are anti-inflammatory and I think are a good environment for a cancer patient to have. So, you know, other than omega-3s, vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, my recommendations usually depend on the patient and what stage they are in their treatment because there is this fear that the antioxidants may, in fact, interfere with the potential benefit of radiation therapy or the chemotherapy agents that work by doing oxidative damage to the cancer cells’ DNA.
There’s a fear that by taking antioxidant supplements while you are getting radiation, or those particular chemotherapies, you may also protect the cancer cells from the effect of the oxidative treatments.
I think cancer cells and normal cells are significantly different enough that that might not be the case, but just to err on the side of caution, I do recommend that my patients getting active treatment with radiation or chemo not take heavy antioxidant supplementation.
I think it’s okay to eat an antioxidant-rich diet while you are getting radiation or chemo. I often say, if it comes down to a fight between the blueberry and that beam of radiation, who do you think is going to win?
About Dr. Abrams, M.D.:
Dr. Donald I. Abrams, M.D., a cancer specialist, is director of clinical programs at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. Abrams provides integrative medicine consultations for cancer patients and has completed research in complementary and alternative therapies including mind-body treatments, botanical therapies, medical use of marijuana and traditional Chinese medicine herbal therapies.