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

One of the Little known Causes of Headaches

Posted August 15, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Your Sleeping Position May Be Causing Your Headaches!

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

Can sleeping position be one of the causes of headaches?  

A Sleeping position that has your head tilted puts pressure on your spinal cord and will cause headaches. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and the reasoning is so logical it’s easy to understand.

causes of headachesYour spinal cord runs from your brain, through each of your vertebrae, down your arms and legs. Nerves pass out of the vertebrae and go to every cell in your body, including each of your organs. When you are sleeping it is important to keep your head, neck, and spine in a horizontal plane so you aren’t straining the muscles that insert into your vertebrae.

The graphic above is a close-up of your skull and the cervical (neck) vertebrae. Your nerves are shown in yellow, and your artery is shown in red.  Consider what happens if you hold your head to one side for hours. You can notice that the nerves and artery will likely be press upon. Also, since your spinal cord comes down the inside of the vertebrae, it will also be impinged.

In 2004 the Archives of Internal Medicine published an article stating that 1 out of 13 people have morning headaches. It’s interesting to note that the article never mentions the spinal cord being impinged by the vertebrae. That’s a major oversight!

Muscles merge into tendons, and the tendons insert into the bone.  As you stayed in the tilted position for hours, the muscles actually shortened to the new length.  Then you try to turn over, but the short muscles are holding your cervical vertebrae tightly, and they can’t lengthen.

The weight of your head pulls on the vertebrae, putting even more pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.  Plus, the tight muscles are pulling on the bones, causing pain on the bone.

Your Pillow is Involved in Your Sleeping Position and the Causes of  Headaches

sleep left side

The analogy I always use is; just as pulling your hair hurts your scalp, the muscle pulling on the tendons hurts the bone where it inserts.  In this case it is your neck muscles putting a strain on your cervical bones.  For example, if you sleep on your left side and your pillow is too thick, your head will be tilted up toward the ceiling. This position tightens the muscles on the right side of your neck.

sleeping in car and desk

Dozing off while sitting in a car waiting for someone to arrive, or while working for hours at your desk can also horizontal line sleepcause headaches. The pictures above show a strain on the neck when you fall asleep without any support on your neck. Both of these people will wake up with a headache, and with stiffness in their neck.

The best sleeping position to prevent headaches is to have your pillow adjusted so your head, neck, and spine are in a horizontal line. Play with your pillows, putting two thin pillows into one case if necessary. If your pillow is too thick try to open up a corner and pull out some of the stuffing.

 

sleeping on stomachSleeping on Your Back & Stomach

If you sleep on your back and have your head on the mattress, your spine is straight. All you need is a little neck pillow for support, and a pillow under your knees.

Stomach sleeping is the worst sleeping position for not only headaches, but so many other aches and pains. It’s a tough habit to break, but it can be done. This sleeping position deserves its own blog, which I will do in the future.

 

Treating the Muscles That Cause Headaches

sleeping position causes of headachesAll of the muscles that originate or insert into your cervical vertebrae, and many that insert into your shoulder and upper back, need to be treated.  The treatments are all taught in Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living, in the neck and shoulder chapters.  Here is one treatment that will help you get relief.

Take either a tennis ball or the Perfect Ball (which really is Perfect because it has a solid center and soft outside) and press into your shoulder as shown.  You are treating a muscle called Levator Scapulae which pulls your cervical vertebrae out of alignment when it is tight.

Hold the press for about 30 seconds, release, and then press again.

Your pillow is a key to neck pain and headaches caused by your sleeping position.  It’s worth the time and energy to investigate how you sleep and correct your pillow.  I believe this blog will help you find the solution and will insure you have restful sleep each night.

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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