The 4 common supplements that could increase your risk of cancer

The 4 common supplements that could increase your risk of cancer


MILLIONS of people take a whole host of supplements every day for a myriad of reasons.

We should be able to get all of our vitamins and minerals from the food we consume – but that's not always the case.

If you're a little low on some levels, or if medication or health conditions mean you can't absorb nutrients properly – then supplements can be beneficial.

Sometimes your GP might advise you to take, or prescribe supplements to you.

It's important that if you are prescribed medication that you never stop taking it without speaking to your GP.

While supplements can be useful, studies have shown that there are some pills that could increase your risk of cancer.

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1. Selenium 

Selenium is a mineral that is found in foods such as oysters, brazil nuts, eggs, yellowfin tuna, sardines and sunflower seeds.

It has a number of benefits including boosting metabolic health and helping with thyroid function.

A Cochrane review published in 2018 looked specifically at the supplement and if it could help reduce cancer risk.

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Experts found that it did not lower the likelihood of cancer and some of the trials even reported a higher risk of prostate cancer.

Patients who took the supplement also had a bigger risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the experts found.

The NHS says that you should have 0.075mg of selenium a day if you're a man and 0.060mg a day if you are a woman – this applies to people aged 19-64 years-old.

2. Beta carotene

Carrots, spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and broccoli all contain beta carotene and most people can get enough of the vitamin from their diets.

People usually take it to help promote good eye health and vision as well as healthy skin.

A study published in 2019 found a link between those who took the supplements and lung cancer.

This was found in people who smoked or had previously been exposed to asbestos.

Experts looked at 29,000 male smokers and found that those who were taking 20mg a day of the supplement for five to eight years, had an 18 per cent higher risk of lung cancer.

"Do not take more than 7mg of beta-carotene supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.

"People who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos are advised not to take any beta-carotene supplements", the NHS says.

3. Folic acid

Folic acid is a key supplement – and it's one that pregnant women are advised to take during pregnancy.

This is because when the baby is developing – it helps form the neural tubes.

It's especially important as it can help prevent some major birth defects such as brain and spine issues, the Centre for Disease Control says.

The NHS recommends that you take: 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – from before you're pregnant until you're 12 weeks pregnant.

If you're not pregnant, you should have 200 micrograms per day.

A paper penned in 2019 found that there was a link between folic acid supplements and colorectal cancer.

People who took folic acid and b12 pills were found to be at a 21 per cent higher risk of cancer.

The experts found that 38 per cent of those studied were at an increased risk of dying from the illness.

It's important to note that this was a trial of just 1,021 people who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

4. Vitamin E

It's easy to get enough vitamin E through your diet, as it's in many foods including peanuts, almonds, spinach and peppers.

The NHS says the amount of vitamin E you need is: 4mg a day for men and 3mg a day for women.

A study published in 2012 found that supplementing your diet with vitamin E could increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men.

This was specific to vitamin E with high doses of α-tocopherol, which is a type of vitamin E with the number E307.

It's important to note that people who have cancer often take supplements.

Experts at Cancer Research UK explained: "You might need to have dietary supplements if you have low levels of certain nutrients. 

"Some hormone treatments for breast and prostate cancer can weaken your bones.

"So your doctor might prescribe calcium and Vitamin D to protect your bones."

They added that some cancers can stop you from easily absorbing nutrients from your food- so your doctor might prescribe a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.

"Most people use supplements alongside their cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But others choose to use them instead of conventional treatments.

"Taking dietary supplements instead of conventional cancer treatment could harm your health. 

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"It might reduce the chance of curing or controlling your cancer", they added.

If you're thinking of taking supplements then seek advice from your GP or a dietician.

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