Dietary and Herbal Supplements
What is a dietary supplement?
A diet is a plan or strategy for eating certain foods. Adding anything to your regular
diet to improve your health or help you heal is called a dietary supplement. Some
Can dietary supplements help people with cancer?
There is no scientific evidence that a person’s diet can cure cancer. But you may
get medical nutrition therapy from a registered dietitian as part of your regular
healthcare. Your body's nutritional needs can be met by eating a balanced diet.
Some supplements might help decrease cancer risk. But there's no clear evidence for
this claim. Many such claims made by manufacturers of some supplements are not scientifically
proven. And some supplements might interfere with the safety or effectiveness of certain
cancer treatments. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know about any supplements
you take (including multivitamins) before starting treatment.
There are also many possible side effects from certain diets and supplements, especially
if you take high doses. These include weakness, diarrhea, or kidney problems. Following
diets that your healthcare provider or registered dietitian has not approved can be
unsafe at any time, but especially during cancer treatment. Talk with your healthcare
provider or registered dietitian before making any changes to your regular diet.
What are the different dietary supplements?
Below is a list of some dietary supplements. Always talk with your healthcare provider
before taking any of these:
Vitamins. These are needed in small quantities for the body to grow and stay strong. They include
vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
Minerals. These are elemental nutrients. They are needed to stay healthy. They include calcium,
magnesium, and zinc.
Antioxidants. These protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals
are by-products of the body’s normal chemical processes.
Enzymes. These are proteins made by the body. They start and speed up chemical processes,
such as digestion. Some enzymes can be taken as supplements.
Amino acids. These are the building blocks of the body’s proteins. Proteins are needed for growth
and development. Some amino acids are made by the body. Others, called essential amino
acids, come from your diet.
Plant extracts. These are sometimes used to help nourish the body. Followers of the principles of
Chinese medicine may use them. Traditional Chinese medicine works to restore a balance
of energy, body, and spirit for good health. When cancer causes imbalances, people
who use Chinese medicine may try herbs, minerals, and plant extracts as treatment.
Hormones. These are chemicals made in glands in the body. They affect how organs and tissues
Herbs. These are plants used in food preparation or for medicinal purposes.
Homeopathic products. These are very small doses of natural substances, often herbs, diluted with water
or alcohol. Homeopathic medicine is based on the belief that what causes symptoms
in a healthy person can cure the same symptoms in someone who is not healthy. These
products are used to start healing, not to stop symptoms.
You can find dietary supplements at grocery stores, health food stores, and drug stores.
They come in many forms, such as:
Are there any possible problems or complications?
Not all dietary supplements available over the counter are proven to be safe.
Each one is different. Most are not scientifically tested. So the side effects are
unknown. Many cancer experts advise that you do not use vitamins or other dietary
supplements. If you're getting cancer treatment and were already taking dietary supplements
before the cancer was diagnosed, be sure to tell your healthcare provider. Some supplements
may interfere with your treatment.
What is an herbal supplement?
Herbal supplements are products made from plants. They are used in treating and managing
certain diseases and health problems. Many prescription and over-the-counter medicines
are also made from plants. These products contain only purified ingredients. And unlike
herbal supplements, they are closely regulated by the FDA. Herbal supplements may
contain entire plants or plant parts.
Herbal supplements come in all forms. They may be dried, chopped, powdered, or put
in a capsule or liquid. They can be used in various ways, including:
Swallowed as pills
Brewed as tea
Put on the skin as gels
Added to bath water
Can herbal supplements help people with cancer?
The practice of using herbal supplements dates back thousands of years. Today, there
is a renewal in the use of herbal supplements among Americans. But herbal supplements
are not for everyone. In fact, some herbal products may cause problems for people
getting cancer treatment. Because they are not subject to close scrutiny by the FDA
or other governing agencies, the use of herbal supplements is controversial. Don't
take any herbal supplements without first talking with your healthcare provider.
The FDA and herbal supplements
The FDA considers herbal supplements to be foods, not medicines. So these products
don't get the same testing, manufacturing, and labeling standards and regulations
Don't self-prescribe. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking herbal supplements.