Cancer Patients, Mega-Dosing Vitamins

People take a lot of vitamins. From centrums to ginkgos to St. Johns to multi-vites—Americans LOVE magic pills! But it seems cancer survivors REALLY love vitamins and supplements. Tara Parker-Pope of the Well blog talks about it. Take a look:
Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle reviewed 32 studies conducted between 1999 and 2006. The investigators found that 64 percent to 81 percent of cancer survivors overall reported taking extra vitamins or minerals (excluding multivitamins). In the general population, only 50 percent of American adults reported taking dietary supplements.


The findings, published this month in The Journal of Clinical Oncology and funded by the National Cancer Institute, are worrisome because little is known about how megadoses of vitamins affect cancer. Some lab studies have suggested that antioxidants can improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments. But many more studies raise questions about the use of these supplements. A 1995 report in The Journal of Biological Chemistry showed that cancer cells in a petri dish thrive in the presence of vitamin C.

The American Cancer Society says use of vitamins and supplements during cancer treatments should be avoided. A 2005 report in the medical journal CA cites several studies that show the use of vitamins by cancer patients doesn’t help and may even cause harm.
Now, this got Dr. Petrillo fired up! Dr. Petrillo works with Dr. Fuhrman and she too knows the benefits of a nutrient-dense diet. Here she explains why WHOLE FOODS and NOT extracted ingredients are the key to great health. Check it out:
Well, the point is that people should be getting their micronutrients from whole foods, not from bottles of supplements. Phytochemicals act synergistically in a whole food form to provide even greater benefits than taking one extracted ingredient alone. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Dr. Fuhrman and I see some incredibly ill people come into in this office who are eating garbage all day long, but they bring in a list of 40 nutritional supplements they are taking as though all those pills they swallow each morning are supposed to protect them from disease; they are actually puzzled as to how they have gotten so sick in spite of all the supplements they take.
But sadly, a lot of Americans are indoctrinated to believe they can eat like crap, but as long as they take their once-a-days, they’ll be fine. As Dr. Petrillo explains, this is a risky proposition and one that can have painful consequences. She tells a true story:
A patient I saw a few months ago was actually arguing with me that it was better to just take a vitamin C supplement than to eat an orange! She said, "Why should I eat oranges? I'm taking vitamin C!" As if vitamin C was the only thing an orange had to offer her. In the end, she lady did not follow our nutritional program and ended up on the bypass table a few months later.
Sure, this story may seem dramatic—but ask yourself—is it really that uncommon? I don’t think so and neither is the sense of desperation many cancer patients feel. Here Dr. Petrillo explains why these patients may start super-dosing supplements:
It is understandable that cancer patients are desperate to do anything to save their lives, but there are too many unknowns to taking mega-doses of vitamins and other supplements (a med school professor of mine used to say, "Americans have the most vitamin-rich urine in the world." We eat junk but overdose on vitamins, the excess of which we are just peeing out anyway!). Look at the evidence on high doses of beta-carotene increasing lung cancer risk, the researchers of that study sure weren't expecting those results! Which brings me to science—science is the vehicle by which we prove to ourselves that that which we think to be true, is in fact true. That which we do not believe to be true is truly not true, or sometimes, that which we believe to be true—is NOT! There can be no assumptions, only proof.


And proof takes time (and money). Do you think the vitamin companies want to see clinical trials done that might show that mega-doses of vitamins are dangerous to cancer patients? No way! Bottom line is it all comes down to chemistry (or science), everything you put in your body is causing some kind of chemical reaction with your tissue in some way, whether it is an FDA-approved medication, an over-the-counter medication, a vitamin pill, an "all-natural herbal supplement," nicotine, caffeine, other drugs or some bok choy! (Aside: if you had never heard of bok choy and someone said to you, "Hey man, want some bok choy?" what exactly would you think you were being offered?) Enough is enough, and, more is too much.
This is certainly a complicated issue and I’m sure desperation could cloud the mind of even the most astute cancer patient. So, with that in mind, Dr. Petrillo offers some final words of wisdom:
We may not know when enough is enough when it comes to certain compounds, but do you want to experiment on yourself? Especially if you have cancer? Maybe you do. But bear in mind that cancer patients should focus on boosting their immune system function and overall wellness the best and safest way we know how—whole foods of high-nutrient density. Anything else may be just a gamble.
I admit, I’ll place an occasional bet on a basketball game, but gambling with my health—not my bag. What about you?
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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jo - February 11, 2008 9:03 AM

Well, look at it this way. Their pee must be so bright yellow that they don't need to snap a light on at night.
Saves electricity.

Gerry Pugliese - February 11, 2008 10:36 AM

Hey Jo-

LOL! Americans must have the most vitamin-rich sewers in the world!

Peace.
-Gerry

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