Benefit from taking antioxidant supplements?


Question from Chess: Breast cancer survivors are said to take higher doses of antioxidants. Is there any research to support this strategy? What research, if any, has been undertaken to discover whether there is any benefit from taking supplements? Where do promoters of supplements get their "evidence"?
Answers - Nicholas Robert, M.D. The issue of supplements is compounded by the absence of well-designed clinical trials. Unfortunately, much of the information is testimonial in nature. The rationale for these approaches does have some biological basis, but as we have learned with other good ideas, they must be tested in a prospective fashion. Unfortunately when this is done, ideas like high-dose vitamin C did not prove to be of value. In terms of antioxidants, the limited data that does exist is not encouraging. What further complicates this whole field is the quality of the product tested. Supplements are not well regulated to guarantee quality. My recommendation is to avoid supplements while receiving active systemic treatment, and if there's an interest in using supplements, to be cautious and use them moderately. There exists already in the National Cancer Institute a department that supports studies with supplements, and I would encourage participation in such trials.
Beth Baughman DuPree, M.D., F.A.C.S. This brings up a very, very important issue that you must be completely forthcoming with your treating physician about anything you are taking, whether it is prescription, over the counter, or thought to be some type of herbal or vitamin supplement. Many of our treatments, including anthracyclines and radiation therapy, kill cancer cells by creating a formation of free radicals. Because one of the mechanisms of antioxidants is to stop free radical formation, the last thing we want to do is inhibit potential beneficial effects of the treatment we are giving by adding excess antioxidants into the body during the time of certain chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Once the initial treatment of the cancer is complete and patients are beginning the process of trying to live a healthier lifestyle, the recommended doses of vitamins and antioxidants should not be taken in excess of what the FDA recommends. I do encourage my patients to eat a healthy diet in which many antioxidants will come from the foods that we eat. Supplementation can be used just as the word says, to supplement, not in place of healthy food choices. So be certain that you discuss with your physician any medications, supplements, or herbs that you are taking during your treatment.

On Wednesday, June 24, 2009, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Updates from the ASCO Annual Meeting. Nick Robert, M.D. and Beth Baughman Dupree, M.D., F.A.C.S. answered your questions about the newest findings on risk, screening, treatment, and more.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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