Thanks to environmental pollutants, allergens, increased pesticide usage, smoking, obesity, UV radiation, alcohol consumption, and nutrient poor diet, cancer has become the leading cause of deaths across the globe. The number of people diagnosed per year in the United Kingdom and the United States are about 0.3 and 1.5 million respectively.
We all know that “Prevention is better than cure”, but how many of us are actively managing our lifestyle or actively taking preventive measures to avoid being slammed by cancer? Just knowing and understanding has never been enough. Nutrient poor diet is not only associated with energy exhaustion, stress, fatigue, and irritation as it is linked with the development of many types of cancers.
If your routine diet is lacking essential nutrients (minerals, anti-oxidants, protein, vitamins, healthy fats, and fiber), nutritional supplements helps to replace missing nutrients in the body. These supplements are most effective either to reduce cancer risk by strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation, or to help ease side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. To date there is still insufficient data on their anti-cancer effects.
Why Nutritional Supplements to Fight Cancer?
Hundreds of world’s leading research institutes are trying to find the answer to cancer prevention/management. Taking the approach of “Prevention is better than Care”, one of their key priorities is to understand the effectiveness of nutritional supplements , and how best to use them.
Nutritional supplements can be put into two groups; anti-toxicity and anti-cancer agents, both widely used among cancer patients. There is a strong recommendation that cancer patients must have an open dialogue with their physicians about using these supplements as the usage needs to be individualized based of various factors such as genetics, tumour histology, and background diet1.
Omega -3 Fatty acids
In a 2015 review, omega-3 fatty acids supplements known for their anti-inflammatory properties may reduce the risk of the development of breast cancer. The review also concluded that onions and garlic supplements may reduce the risk of the development of cancers associated with our digestive track2. This is particularly true as people who eat a lot of garlic have a lower risk for developing certain common cancers. In laboratory experiments conducted in a 2018 study revealed that garlic extracts can block the growth of some types of cancer cells3.
A 2016 review suggested that curcumin from Turmeric supplements can leads to the death of cancer cells and can slow tumour growth4. A recent review found that it is effective both in vitro and in vivo against cancers of prostate, breast, colo-rectal, pancreatic and head and neck. Its efficacy and safety has been demonstrated in several human clinical studies. The mechanism of action is thought to be via interfering different cellular pathways to either inhibit or induce production of cytokines, enzymes and growth factors. The limitation of curcumin is its poor water solubility, which reduces cellular absorption and oral bioavailability. Chemically it is also unstable. Research is ongoing to try and find an improved delivery system to enhance its effects within the body5.
Research data published by the National Cancer Institute suggests a possible link between vitamin D and cancer development. Studies on mice cancer cells have found that can slow or prevent the development of cancer including; cell mutation and growth, while at the same time enables cell death and reducing tumour blood vessels from forming. Higher blood levels of vitamin D is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer6.
Green Tea contains polyphenols; a compound with powerful anti-cancer effects. Polyphenols inhibit the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, thus limiting its growth and spread. However for it to be effective one would have to drink 10-12 cups. A study on ovarian cancer found that those who drank green tea were likely to survive longer (after diagnosis) than women who did not. A higher level of consumption was associated with better survival rates7.
Discussions on the use of antioxidants as an anti inflammatory and for cancer prevention and treatment are still unresolved. However there is sufficient data to suggest that antioxidant supplements including, green tea, vitamin A, C, E and multivitamins can improve quality of life for some patients7.
Some types of cancers can also damage our body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food. In such instances, the use of probiotics can help to protect the gut and enhance absorption. Doctors may also prescribe multivitamin and mineral supplements to overcome the nutrient deficit.
Health comes first; and we are solely responsible for taking good care of our body. Adapting a healthier lifestyle is no longer an option as we are constantly battling with life-threatening diseases and health disorders including cancer. Wholesome diet along with nutritional supplements can play a vital role in keeping cancers at bay.
To avoid any risk to your health status, it is not advised to take any type of nutritional supplements as an alternative to cancer treatment without consulting your physician or health professional.
- Harvie M. Nutritional supplements and cancer: potential benefits and proven harms. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2014:e478-86. doi: 10.14694/EdBook_AM.2014.34.e478
- Fabian, C.J., Kimler, B.F. & Hursting, S.D. Omega-3 fatty acids for breast cancer prevention and survivorship. Breast Cancer Res. 2015; 17( https://doi.org/10.1186/s13058-015-0571-6
- Petrovic V, Nepal A, Olaisen C, et al. Anti-Cancer Potential of Homemade Fresh Garlic Extract Is Related to Increased Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress. Nutrients. 2018;10(4):450. Published 2018 Apr 5. doi:10.3390/nu10040450
- Deng Y, Verron E, Rohanizadeh R. Molecular mechanisms of anti-metastatic activity of curcumin. Int J Cancer Res. 2016; 36(11): 5639-5647.
- Tomeh MA, Hadianamrei R, Zhao X. A Review of Curcumin and Its Derivatives as Anticancer Agents. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(5):1033. Published 2019 Feb 27. doi:10.3390/ijms20051033
- National Cancer Institute. Vitamin D and cancer prevention. (2013, Oct 21). https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/vitamin-d-fact-sheet.
- Parker H. Vitamin and supplements for cancer patients. (2010, Dec 17) https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/cancer-supplements#2