One of the undying beliefs of some people is that a handful of expensive supplements prevent cancer and heart disease. Outside of a few cases where there is a diagnosed medical need for supplements, the only result of taking them is very expensive urine.
I’ve written a lot about various supplements and their potential to treat or prevent cancer and heart disease, and the evidence is sorely lacking. There are good ways to prevent cancer, like not smoking and getting the HPV vaccine, but not a single one of them includes swallowing a bunch of vitamins.
Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft recommendations on supplements – they were unable to give a single recommendation to any of the supplements that they examined. And as we do here, let’s take a look at what they wrote.
Plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) were first identified in the early 1930s. At that time it was discovered that soybeans, willows, dates, and pomegranates contained compounds that were much like estrogens. Scientists began studying the role isoflavones play in reducing breast cancer risk in the 1960s. In a 1981 prospective study in Japan, researchers found that daily intake of miso, a soybean paste, was linked to lower death rates from stomach cancer in more than 260,000 men and women. Around that time, other studies on soy began to be published in the United States. In October 1999, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to allow health claims about soy’s role in reducing heart disease on food products containing soy protein. Continue reading “Soy supplements and prostate cancer–no effect”
Potential causes for cancer are numerous. Infections. Radon gas. Cigarette smoking. Sun exposure.Obesity. With over 200 types of cancer, each with a different pathophysiology, there may be an equal (and probably greater) number of causes. Although many causes can be easily eliminated, such as stopping smoking, testing your house for radon, getting an HPV vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus infections, and wearing sunblock to reduce the risk of melanomas, the sheer complexity and number of types of cancer means that there is probably not going to be any simple panacea to preventing (or even curing) cancer. In fact, some hereditary cancers, such as those individuals who carry genes that are implicated in breast and ovarian cancers, may not be preventable at all.
Other than eliminating direct risks, are there things that can be done to actually prevent “cancer”? Once again, with over 200 types of cancer, this may be an impossibility, but the two most popular cancer prevention ideas are supplements and nutrition. Vitamins and other supplements are a $61 billion industry in the US. They generate these sales with minimal regulation, minimal quality control over the quality and dosage, and no requirement to actually provide evidence that the supplements do what is claimed by the supplement industry, aka Big Herbal. The FDA only gets involved with the industry if there’s some dangerous side effect, or when the claims of the industry are so outrageous that the FDA has no choice but to get involved. Continue reading “Folic acid supplements and cancer–myth vs. science”