The 4 common supplements that could increase your risk of cancer

Millions of people take a whole host of supplements every day for a myriad of reasons.

We should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we consume — but that’s not always the case.

If you’re a little low on some, or if medication or health conditions mean you can’t absorb nutrients properly, supplements can be beneficial.

Sometimes your GP might advise you to take certain ones, or even prescribe you specific supplements.

It’s important that if you are prescribed medication, that you don’t stop taking it without speaking to your GP.

While supplements can be useful, studies have shown there are some pills that could in fact increase your risk of cancer.

1. Selenium 

Selenium is a mineral found in foods such as oysters, brazil nuts, eggs, yellowfin tuna, sardines and sunflower seeds.

It has a number of benefits including boosting metabolic health and helping with thyroid function.

Cochrane review published in 2018 looked specifically at the supplement and if it could help reduce cancer risk.

Experts found it did not lower the likelihood of cancer and some trials actually reported a higher risk of prostate cancer.

Patients who took the supplement also had a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, experts found.

The NHS says you should have 0.075mg of selenium a day if you’re a man and 0.060mg a day if you are a woman — this applies to ages 19-64.

We should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we consume - but that's not always the case.
We should be able to get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we consume — but that’s not always the case.

2. Beta carotene

Carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli all contain beta carotene and most people can get enough from their diet.

People usually take it additionally to help promote good eye health and vision as well as healthy skin.

A study published in 2019 found a link between those who took a -supplement and lung cancer.

This was found in people who smoked or had previously been exposed to asbestos.

Experts looked at 29,000 male smokers and found that those who took 20mg a day of beta carotene for five to eight years, had an 18 per cent higher risk of lung cancer.

“Do not take more than 7mg of beta-carotene supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.

“People who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos are advised not to take any beta-carotene supplements,” the NHS says.

3. Folic acid

Folic acid is a key supplement — and one that pregnant women are advised to take during pregnancy.

This is because when the baby is developing, it helps form their neural tubes.

It’s especially important as it can help prevent some major birth defects such as brain and spine issues, the Center for Disease Control says.

The NHS recommends you take: 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – from before you’re pregnant until you’re 12 weeks pregnant.

If you’re not pregnant, you should have 200 micrograms per day.

A paper penned in 2019 found a link between folic acid supplements and colorectal cancer.

People who took folic acid and b12 pills were found to be at a 21 per cent higher risk of cancer.

The experts found that 38 per cent of those studied were at an increased risk of dying from the illness.

It’s important to note this was a trial of just 1,021 people, all diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

While supplements can be useful, studies have shown there are some pills that could in fact increase your risk of cancer.
While supplements can be useful, studies have shown there are some pills that could in fact increase your risk of cancer.


4. Vitamin E

It’s easy to get enough vitamin E through the likes of peanuts, almonds, spinach and peppers.

The NHS says you need 4mg a day for men and 3mg a day for women.

A study published in 2012 found that supplementing your diet with vitamin E could increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men though.

This was specific to vitamin E with high doses of α-tocopherol, which is a type of vitamin E with the number E307.

It’s important to note that people who have cancer often take supplements.

Experts at Cancer Research UK explained: “You might need to have dietary supplements if you have low levels of certain nutrients. 

“Some hormone treatments for breast and prostate cancer can weaken your bones.

“So your doctor might prescribe calcium and Vitamin D to protect your bones.”

They added that some cancers can stop you from easily absorbing nutrients from food – so your doctor might prescribe a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.

“Most people use supplements alongside their cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But others choose to use them instead of conventional treatments.

“Taking dietary supplements instead of conventional cancer treatment could harm your health. 

“It might reduce the chance of curing or controlling your cancer,” they added.

If you’re thinking of taking supplements, seek advice from your GP or a dietician.

This story originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced here with permission.

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