“Oh dear…” That’s really all I have to say about the recent supplement-bashing headlines that many of you may have seen in the news: “Excessive use of dietary supplements linked to increased cancer risk”… ” Supplements may raise, not lower cancer risk”… “Taking too many vitamins pills ‘increases risk of heart disease and cancer’, study warns”.
Here we go again
It’s the same old story… and this latest analysis, which was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, is not any different. For their analysis, researchers looked at 20 years of published studies on supplements to determine if taking vitamins can help reduce the risk of cancer.
In a nutshell, lead researcher Dr. Tim Byers, of the University of Colorado Cancer Centre, said that based on the results instead of reducing the risk of cancer, taking supplements actually increases the risk.
He added that in several of the studies, there was an increase in cancer in people who specifically took beta carotene, vitamin E and folic acid supplements.
In fact, Dr. Byers makes a point of highlighting these three supplements a few times.
So, let’s pause for a moment and breakdown his argument against these three main “culprits”:
Vitamin E has had a bad rap in the past and in some studies it has indeed been linked to an increased risk of cancer… in particular prostate and breast cancer.
However, in all of these trials the researchers used the synthetic and inferior form of vitamin E. This type of vitamin E is rubbish and should only be used EXTERNALLY because it’s a molecule shape that the body cannot digest properly.
If any group of researchers GENUINELY wanted to test Vitamin E’s potential to help prevent cancer, they would have used the full spectrum of natural vitamin E – a family of eight different compounds: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Using the proper form of vitamin E, most likely would have produced VERY different results.
So, really what’s to blame? The supplement or the methodology?
This brings us to beta carotene – found in carrots as a precursor to vitamin A. One of the studies Dr. Byers included for his analysis was published in 1994 in the New England Journal of Medicine and found that male smokers who took beta-carotene supplements had an 18 per cent higher risk of lung cancer over five to eight years compared with male smokers who did not take the supplements.
- Surely smoking was the greatest cause for the increased risk of lung cancer, and not beta-carotene?
- Perhaps there is a case to be made that beta carotene supplements are harmful to smokers in particular, instead of vilifying beta carotene altogether?
Taking beta-carotene in isolation as a supplement may not provide the full-spectrum of health benefits you can expect from carotenoids – 600 naturally occurring pigments synthesized by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. These richly coloured molecules are the sources of the yellow, orange, and red colours of many plants and beta-carotene is one of them.
So, it is best to take mixed carotenoids that contain a mixture of carotenes including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, astaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Lastly, folic acid is the oxidized synthetic compound of folate – a group of water soluble B-vitamins also known as B9 – used in dietary supplements and food fortification. Repeat after me Dr. Byers: Folate is natural and folic acid is synthetic. It’s a known fact that high doses of folic acid can be harmful to your health.
The mainstream is quick to go to war against supplements without separating the facts from fiction. Surely it’s not rocket science to know that when you conduct studies with inferior and synthetic forms of a supplement, you cannot expect to see much, if any, benefits… and yes, you might very well end up finding a risk associated with taking these lower-grade supplements.
As for Dr. Byers, using bodged studies like this as part of a 20 year analysis is not just a massive waste of time and resources, but is also a massive fail on his part – failure 101!
The message here is not that supplements are bad for you. No, it is: Countless studies have used sub-standard and synthetic versions of supplements – they contradict the numerous, genuine studies that have been carried out over the years showing the therapeutic properties of nutritional supplements (you only have to look at all the positive research on vitamin D3 for starters to prove that!!).
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Excessive use of dietary supplements linked to increase cancer risk, published online 20,04.15, sciencedaily.com