Supplements and cancer prevention: What you need to know
Can supplements help you prevent cancer? It’s a confusing subject because of the number of products out there, and the often extravagant claims about what they can do. Get the facts from our expert.
Research has proven that our bodies need a wide variety of nutrients to stay well. Vitamins like vitamin C and D, and minerals like calcium and iron are essential to our health.
Recent studies also have supported the role of antioxidants, like phytochemicals, found in plants. They can keep our cells healthy and reduce our risk of disease.
So doesn’t it make sense that isolating these substances and taking them in supplement form is a fast, easy way to good health?
Our clinical dietitian, Haley Gale, says there are supplements that can boost your level of certain helpful nutrients, but the real way to health is much simpler than that.
“There are some nutrients that are worth adding to your health routine, but the real value comes from looking at your diet,” says Gale.
When to supplement
The best way to get nutrients is through food, but if you are deficient in something, a supplement might help. If you are concerned you have a deficiency, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
Vitamin D. Many people don’t get enough vitamin D. If you don’t get enough vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium very well, and your bones need calcium. But don’t simply start taking vitamin D. Your doctor can test your level at your annual physical and let you know if you need a supplement.
B12. Vitamin B12 keeps your nerves and blood cells healthy and prevents anemia, which can make you feel weak and tired. Most people who eat meat or dairy products get enough B12 from their diet. People who are vegan may need to take a B12 supplement.
Multivitamins. If you think you have gaps in the nutrients you get from your food, a multivitamin may help.
“A daily multivitamin can fill those gaps,” says Gale. “This is different from taking a supplement that gives you just one nutrient, and usually in high doses. Taking so much at once may overwhelm your body.”
Keep in mind, many water-soluble supplements end up being passed in your urine, so your money simply goes straight down the toilet, Gale says.
Supplement your diet the tasty way
You can supplement your diet every time you eat. And eating essential vitamins, minerals and all the other nutrients in their true form will ensure you get the most benefit.
“The most helpful thing you can do is think about your diet in a little bit of a different way,” says Gale. “Be aware of what your diet looks like most of the time, and know what gaps there might be.”
Omega 3 oils. These healthy fats are found in oily fish like salmon and in seeds like flaxseeds. Omega 3 oils contain two valuable fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Studies have shown that EPA and DHA can reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases. They promote brain health and produce compounds in your body that fight inflammation in your cells.
Many other foods are anti-inflammatory, including turmeric and ginger. Eating these as part of your diet is better than supplementing because often they are heat activated. Removing the nutrient from its plant host destroys some of the health benefits. In other words, eating the actual plant is necessary, not the micronutrient alone.
Eat plants of all colors
Every color of food signals a different beneficial antioxidant. They defend our body from damage from pollution, infection, medications and more.
A plant based diet, rich in vegetables, whole grains and fruits is proven to lower your cancer risk in ways that supplements are not.
Make sure two-thirds of every meal is made up of plants. The remaining one-third should be lean animal protein or plant protein. To make sure you get as many nutrients as you can, pay attention to colors.
“Aim for three different colored fruits and vegetables on your plate at lunch and dinner,” says Gale.
If you focus on your diet in this way, it will give you way more nutrients than one supplement ever could.
“You can’t only do bicep curls your whole life and expect it to get you in shape,” says Gale. “And you can’t only take one supplement and expect it to reduce your risk of cancer.”