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Study Finds Cancer Survivors' Health Greatly Enhanced With Vitamin Supplements

Tuesday, September 23, 2008 by: Dr. Phil Domenico
Tags: cancer, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Nutritional support is essential in the battle against cancer. It helps fight fatigue, improve immune defenses, prevent or correct nutritional imbalances and deficiencies, manage weight, prevent hair loss, and maintain muscle. Patients receiving nutritional support fare significantly better in maintaining body weight, nutritional status and quality of life compared to controls. Unfortunately, most cancer patients do not get the daily nutrients they need.

On the other hand, some experts say that supplement mega-dosing may pose risks, even in cancer prevention. Supplementing with specific nutrients can upset the metabolic balance. There is also the possibility of feeding the cancer with certain supplements, or interfering with medications. For these reasons, it is wise to consult a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for nutritional advice, especially for cancer.

Slowly the medical establishment is relenting to the wealth of evidence supporting nutrition in preventing and treating cancer. Indeed, Johns Hopkins has recently updated information on cancer in its newsletters. After decades of denial, they are acknowledging that cancer is due to multiple nutritional deficiencies, and a strong immune system keeps cancer in check. They admit that diet and supplements can strengthen immunity. They affirm that an effective way to battle cancer is to starve the cancer cells by not feeding them the foods they needs to multiply, including sugar, red meat, and other highly acidic foods. It is reassuring to know that our physicians are taking the lead.

The Johns Hopkins newsletter says that supplements like IP6, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids build up the immune system to enable the body's own killer cells to destroy cancer cells. Other supplements like vitamin E promote apoptosis, which is the death of damaged, unwanted, or unneeded cells. One cancer survivor I know would add DIM, beta glucan, vitamin C complex, vitamin D3, niacin, magnesium, curcumin, tocotrienols, sulforaphane and quercetin to that list. A healthy, alkaline diet with a variety of non-starchy vegetables is key, along with adequate protein and good fats.

Actually, some nutrients may fuel cancer growth, and should be avoided. For example, calcium intakes of 1,500 milligrams or more a day may be associated with an increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Beta-carotene is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos. It is not certain whether these subjects took too much beta-carotene for too long a period, or if the use of natural vs. synthetic beta-carotene is an issue. Certainly, foods rich in natural beta-carotene are considered safe and appear to lower the risk of some types of cancer.

A recent survey found that nearly 75% of older, long-term cancer survivors take dietary supplements. Many cancer patients opt for alternative therapies that may not only protect against adverse side effects from chemotherapy and radiation, but also improve anti-cancer effects.

Dietary supplements have been shown to influence clinical outcomes and long-term survival. For example, rather than compromise conventional treatment, antioxidant therapy produced better response rates and overall survival than chemotherapy alone, though the differences did not reach statistical significance.

Melanoma patients, who survived conventional therapy to eradicate their primary tumors, were put on a nutritional supplement regimen consisting of folic acid, trace minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. After 80 months of follow-up, none of the nine patients experienced recurrent disease.

Breast cancer patients using antioxidants are less likely to suffer a recurrence or die from their cancer. Survival among breast cancer patients receiving 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) plus folic acid was 47% greater than in the group receiving 5-FU alone. The addition of folic acid to chemotherapy resulted in an improved therapeutic profile and significantly prolonged survival time.

Bladder cancer patients who used the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins did not fare as well as those who used the RDA plus 40,000 IU of vitamin A, 2000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 100 mg of vitamin B6, and 90 mg of zinc. After five years, cancer recurrence rates were 91% vs. 41%, respectively. It is not clear which supplement(s) had the most effect, though all these micronutrients are important for immunity. However, it is clear that the RDA is inadequate.

Among lung cancer patients undergoing surgery, the average survival of nonusers was only 11 months, compared to 41 months for vitamin users. Patients with higher blood folate levels also had improved long-term survival. Further studies with larger patient samples consistently show improved survival and quality of life in cancer patients who use vitamin and mineral supplements.

Cancer survivors are generally highly educated people who lead healthy lives. Indeed, the fall in cancer death rates in the U.S. from 1993 to 2001 was confined primarily to people with 16 or more years of education. Death rates from cancers of the lung, breast, prostate, and colon/rectum generally fell significantly in every race and sex stratum, but only among the highly educated. These highly intelligent cancer survivors were also more likely taking supplements. They also smoked less, and ate more fruits, vegetables, fiber and less saturated fat. To reduce the odds of recurrence, cancer survivors opted for both dietary changes and increased supplement use. Thatís what I call intelligent.

So, what exactly were the cancer survivors taking? After five years or more from a diagnosis of breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer, most survivors reported taking multivitamins (80%), calcium, vitamin D, or both (50%). Over 40% took antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, selenium, and combinations, and 29% took fish oil or fatty acid supplements. Glucosamine, chondroitin, botanicals or herbs were taken by less than 20% of the survivors. Many of the supplements taken by the survivors are those that help prevent cancer in the first place, and pose little risk at appropriate doses.

Yet, despite the favorable evidence, the role of nutritional supplements in conjunction with chemo and radiation therapy remains controversial. Go figure.

About the author

Dr. Phil Domenico is a nutritional scientist and educator with a research background in biochemistry and microbiology. Formerly an infectious disease scientist, he now works as a consultant for supplement companies and the food industry.

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