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Can supplements help in the fight against cancer?

Specific substances from foods we eat appear very powerful in fighting the most dreading diseases like cancer. A question remains whether they are equally powerful when taken in mega doses as a single ingredient supplement. The quick answer is that we can't really tell.

It is very difficult to control day to day activities of people living independently. On our good days everything goes smoothly; we eat good diet, exercise and glide through our day with ease and with smiles on our face. On the other hand we sometimes experience dreadful days when everything turns to custard; absolutely nothing goes to plan and we even lose sleep over it. And of course there are days that are in between.

When considering our long term health prospects all things we do count; the foods we eat, beverages we drink, actions we take to de-stress and having good night sleeps to name a few. So each day we are exposed to various stresses and free radicals, which are very reactive chemicals. Environmental toxins, cigarette smoke pollution and ionising radiations are other sources that generate free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to our cells and potentially lead to development of chronic diseases including cancer.

Antioxidants on the other hand, work on the opposite direction. They are friendly chemicals also known to us as a protecting agents of our health. So the logical step may be that adding extra doses of antioxidants such as Vitamins A,E,C and minerals like Se and Zn, could protect us from free radical damage. For clarification sake, selenium and zinc are not antioxidants themselves but are key components of enzymes, which have antioxidant activity and are for that reason also considered in studies investigating antioxidants as treatment for primary cancer prevention.

To date results of several trials in humans have shown somewhat mixes results. Some studies showed not much difference between incidences of cancer development in people taking supplements compared to those who did not. Surprisingly however, few studies showed an increase in the incidence of cancer development when supplements were taken at study specific doses. The reason for that is yet to be explained.However not all studies investigating the use of vitamins for cancer treatment have the same prognosis. Professor Margreet Vissers, a researcher at the University of Otago observed intriguing findings about vitamin C and cancer cells. Her research is still under way and there are many questions to be answered about the effect of this vitamin on tumor growth. However Professor Vissers is hopeful that one day, vitamin C can be used together with existing cancer treatments to improve health outcomes for cancer patients.

To summarise what we know today is that the best way to keep in good health is to eat foods which are naturally high in those antioxidants rather than taking supplements. Whole foods deliver to our body a wide range of nutrients which can enhance antioxidants' activity from foods and therefore contribute to cancer prevention. If you are considering taking a supplement for treatment of a medical condition or a disease, it is a good practice to consult your specialist doctor and not the internet.

#nutrition #supplements #cancer

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