Why cancer patients should leave antioxidant supplements on the shelf

supplementsAntioxidants are good, right? So more antioxidants must be better! This is the logic that has sold billions of dollars worth of dietary supplements and superfood extracts.  And when it comes to exaggerated health claims for dietary supplements, perhaps no one is as vulnerable as cancer patients.

They’re vulnerable for two reasons.

First, they’ll do (and spend) anything that they think will increase their chances against this terrifying disease. So they are easy prey for unscrupulous or well-meaning but misinformed marketers, hawking high-dose and largely unregulated dietary supplements that are supposed to “boost the immune system.”

Secondly, their bodies are in the grips of a disease (and, usually, a treatment regimen) that can profoundly alter their biochemistry and metabolic responses–in ways that can be hard to predict. 

This is why I cringe when I hear about cancer patients who are spending hundreds of dollars a month and swallowing dozens of pills a day in an effort to fight the disease (and the effects of treatment) “naturally.” Like having cancer isn’t difficult and expensive enough. Not only is there usually very little evidence to support these supplement regimens but they may well be doing harm.

A new study just published in Nature magazine found that antioxidant supplements actually speed the growth and spread of melanoma cancer in mice, by protecting and preserving cancer cells that would otherwise succumb to oxidative stress.

See also: Can you get too many antioxidants?

Eating 5 to 9 servings of vegetables a day reduces your risk of cancer. Swallowing 50 servings of vegetables (or anything else) a day in the form of a juice or powder won’t, and may create harmful imbalances.

Whether or not you have cancer, the best and safest way to support your body nutritionally is by eating a balanced and varied diet of minimally-processed. nutritious foods. And because you’re going through a difficult time, it’s ideal if you can find a way to do that with foods that you enjoy.

See also: Can the right diet prevent cancer? 

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