Nutritional supplements (also called dietary supplements) are products that contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, herbs or other botanicals, and/or other ingredients intended to supplement the diet.
SIO Webinar 2014: Integrating Supplements in Cancer Care
The Supplement Market
Nutritional supplements use in the United States and other countries in the Western world are quite popular. People are taking multiple supplements in their cancer journey, a great deal without their physician’s knowledge. By law in the United States and some other countries, the manufacturers are not allowed to claim that their product will cure, treat, or prevent a disease. However, patients often take them with such expectations. Most rely on the marketing information without any objective independent reliable data to support its use. There are over 20,000 nutritional supplements in the US market, without real supervision and monitoring of this multi-billion dollar market, at times taking advantage of people in desperation and in a search for a magic bullet and cure.
Harm and Benefit
There is a major gap in reliable data on the quality and accurate ingredient content of these products. One has to rely mostly, on the marketing material provided by the manufacturer or distributor. At times one has to be cautious as some supplements should not be taken because they are ineffective, they interact with conventional medications in a way that reduces their effectiveness or may even be toxic. However, certain populations may benefit from the use of certain nutritional supplements. With some supplements there are clues in the scientific literature of possible benefit, which patients can consider adding them to their care, after evaluating all risks and benefits.
Direction in making choices
Taking our experience in reviewing the scientific literature, being involved in research on some of these supplements, and knowledge of the nutritional supplement market, we are trying to give direction on the best supplements that have the best evidence available, which ones have better clues for benefit and which ones are based only on marketing information, or carry more risk than benefit and probably should be avoided.
Link to Leading Supplements Graph
Over the decades, we have learned to put our trust in the benefits of a dozen or so supplements, and avoid others. This information is very fluid according to the latest research and we are trying to update our knowledge as new scientific information emerges.
The Clinical Practice Committee of the Society of Integrative Oncology published in 2013 a study on the 10 leading supplements in cancer care from the perspective of experienced practitioners in leading academic centers in the US. Press on the link to this study.
Some of the ones that might have clues for benefit are listed below :