Can Antioxidant Supplements Cause Cancer?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Drugs and Health, Supplements and Health

The Truth About Vitamins C & E

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

mythsI am always amazed at how certain nutrition myths take on a life of their own. A single study gets sensationalized. The study may not be very good, but some nutrition guru publicizes it even though it may be contradicted by other studies that come to the opposite conclusion.

Other blogs and news feeds pick it up. It gets repeated over and over until it becomes generally accepted as true. It becomes what I call an “urban nutrition myth”. Once these myths become well established they are hard to correct. When contrary information is published, it is ignored because everyone already knows the “truth”.

Can Antioxidant Supplements Cause Cancer?

The risks of antioxidant supplements are a perfect example. Most web sites and health experts warn that you should be careful about using antioxidant supplements. You are told that they may just increase your risk of cancer. They may just kill you!

The antioxidant vitamins C and E have generated the most scrutiny in recent years. There were a number of reasons to suspect that they might decrease cancer risk:

1) They destroy free radicals.
2) They decrease cancer risk in animal studies.
3) Increase consumption of vitamins C & E is associated with decreased risk of cancer in human population studies.

Because there was so much circumstantial evidence that vitamins C & E might decrease cancer risk, there have been a number of double-blind, placebo controlled human clinical trials to test that hypothesis.

• 6 clinical studies showed no effect of vitamin C and/or E on cancer incidence.
• 1 study suggested that vitamin E might decrease prostate cancer risk, and another study suggested that vitamin E might decrease colon cancer risk.
• 1 study (Kristal et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, doi: 10.1093/jnci/djt456, 2014) suggested that vitamin E alone might increase prostate cancer risk, but when vitamin E was combined with selenium there was no increased risk. I have discussed a likely explanation of those confusing results in a previous “Health Tips From the Professor” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/selenium-vitamin-e-increase-prostate-cancer-risk/).

That’s it. Six clinical studies show no effect of vitamins C & E on cancer risk, two studies suggest that vitamin E decreases cancer risk and one study suggests that vitamin E increases cancer risk. Yet all the “experts” are warning that antioxidant supplements might increase your cancer risk. It has become an urban nutrition myth.

You may remember that I said that the final characteristic of an urban nutrition myth is that when contrary information is published, it is ignored. In fact, an excellent study showing no effect of vitamins C and E on cancer risk has just been published – and it is being ignored because it doesn’t fit the “truth” that most experts have come to believe.

What Does the Latest Study Show?

antioxidant supplementsThe study in question (Wang et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2014; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.085480) was a post-trial follow-up to the Physicians’ Health Study II. It followed 14,641 US male physicians (average age 64 at the beginning of the trial) for 10.3 years. The subjects were randomly assigned to receive 400 IU of vitamin E every other day, 500 mg of vitamin C daily, or their respective placebos.

The investigators in charge of the study recognized that cancer takes many years to develop and that the effects of supplementation might not be recognized until years later. Because of that, the subjects were followed for an additional 2.8 years after the close of the trial to allow additional time for cancers to develop.

The results were clear cut:

• Vitamin E supplementation had no effect on the incidence of prostate cancer or total cancers.
• Vitamin C supplementation also had no effect on the incidence of prostate cancer or total cancers.
• Vitamin C supplementation decreased the incidence of colon cancer during the post-trial period by 46%, which was marginally significant.

The Bottom Line:

1) Can antioxidant supplements cause cancer?  You can ignore the dire warnings that antioxidant supplements may increase your risk of cancer. The only case where this appears to be true is for high dose beta-carotene supplements in smokers. The weight of evidence for vitamins C and E suggests that they are unlikely to increase your risk of cancer.

2) As I have said previously if there is any risk of antioxidant supplements, it is most likely to arise from using high purity individual antioxidant supplements. I recommend vitamin E supplements containing the full spectrum of tocopherols and tocotrienols, carotenoid supplements containing all the naturally occurring carotenoids, and supplements that combine complementary antioxidant nutrients – vitamin E and selenium, for example.

3) That doesn’t mean that you should run out and stock up on antioxidant supplements in the hope that they will prevent cancer. The same clinical studies that showed no harm from vitamin C and E supplementation also showed no consistent benefit.

4) This is also consistent with my comments in previous “Health Tips from the Professor”. For example:

• It is very difficult to prove, and unreasonable to expect, that supplementation will have a measurable effect on risk of a particular disease like cancer for everyone. People who are healthy and have very low risk of cancer, may experience other benefits from supplementation but are unlikely to experience a measurable decrease in cancer risk.

• Supplementation is most likely to be advantageous in select populations, generally populations with increased need for a particular nutrient or at highest risk of disease. It is clinical studies looking at the effect of supplementation in these select populations that often show the greatest benefit of supplementation.

• Supplementation is just one component of a holistic approach for reducing disease risk. Diet, weight control, exercise, adequate rest and stress reduction all play a major role as well. You can’t weigh 250 pounds and eat all your meals at McDonalds and expect supplementation to save you from disease.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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