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Supplements: Friend or Foe

By PearlPoint Nutrition Services July 25, 2012Pearls of Wisdom Blog

With the “health wake-up call” a cancer diagnosis creates, patients often consider taking new or additional supplements A supplement can be vitamins, minerals, herbs, or a combination of these in a powder or liquid form. These supplements are not meant to take the place of food but can be taken in addition to food with careful consideration and consultation with your health care team.

Before investing a lot of time and money on supplements, you must consider the following:

  • Supplements, just like medications, have the potential to interact with each other.
  • People with cancer should be especially cautious when introducing anything new to their health care routine.
  • Always consult with your health care team and a Registered Dietitian before taking anything in addition to prescribed medications and chemotherapy.

Here are some additional factors to consider when determining if a nutrition supplement is right for you.

Whole, minimally processed foods are always the best source of nutrients.

The first approach to maximizing nutrient intake is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods such as whole grains (oats, brown rice, whole wheat), a variety of fruits and vegetables, and lean protein. The body absorbs nutrients best from food sources. Food is the safest way to get the body what it needs. Whole foods are different than taking a supplement because each food is complex and contains a unique combination of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A Registered Dietitian can help guide food choices and recommend the appropriate amounts.

Cancer can cause restricted or limited food intake.

If your food intake is restricted in any way due to cancer such as decreased appetite, difficulty chewing or swallowing, digestive problems, etc., consult with a Registered Dietitian for food recommendations. A nutrition supplement may be needed and a Registered Dietitian can assess that as well.

Nutrition supplements can be very expensive.

Ask your health care team and consult with a Registered Dietitian before making any purchases. In the meantime, use the money to purchase nutritious, healthy food instead.

Nutrition supplements can be dangerous.

Certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful to the body when they are stored by the body or consumed in very high doses. Make sure current medications do not interact with any vitamins or minerals. Your health care team and a Registered Dietitian can determine any potential drug-nutrient interactions. Some supplements could interfere with surgery and cancer treatment regimens. Your health care team should be aware of current supplements and any changes you make with them at anytime.

Beware of gimmicks – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“Miracle cure” products are usually not properly researched, are overpriced, and do not do what they claim. A Registered Dietitian can review product claims and answer any questions.

When in doubt reach for healthy food choices first. Food is cheaper and a much better source of a variety of nutrients compared to any supplement. This is not to say that supplements do not have a place in the diet. The key is to get accurate and up-to-date recommendations from a Registered Dietitian before opening your wallet.

Blog Author: Kimberly Petersen, RD, LDN
PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

Author PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

PearlPoint Nutrition Services is a program of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

More posts by PearlPoint Cancer Support Staff

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