After much research, I stopped taking a multivitamin several years ago. I had been inconsistent in using them in the past, but I had thought that my cancer diagnosis meant I needed more oomph in my diet. What I ultimately determined was that I did need a strong diet—but that meant eating healthy foods, not popping pills.
It is easy to turn to vitamins and supplements after a diagnosis—we need to do something proactive because, clearly, our bodies are not working right. But, what research has shown me is the multivitamins, in general, give you too many nutrients you don’t need and, as a recent study has shown, are associated with an increased risk of death in postmenopausal women.
The studies did not say multivitamins caused death, only that they were associated with an increased risk. It could be that women who took them were more at risk to begin with, or they opted for pills rather than an improved diet.
So, where does this leave us?
• Look at the labels of the foods you regularly eat to see what vitamins have been added there. Food companies often add B vitamins, folic acid, iron, and other nutrients to everything from breakfast cereal to canned soup. These additions may take care of your necessary dietary intake of these nutrients. And, if you eat these foods plus take a supplement, you could be overdosing.
• Diana Dyer, MS, RD, suggests you “read, read, read” to educate yourself on the use of supplements. I agree, and make food labels part of your reading lists.
• Some docs say antioxidants can interfere with the effects of chemo. Not so, say researchers, in an overview of 50 studies published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. They can actually make chemo more effective.
• Organic and natural foods often do not have added nutrients—only the vitamins and minerals that come naturally in the food itself. I tend to eat a lot of organic, so I do not get added doses in prepared foods.
• Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, especially TNBC. But you can overdo it, and taking too much of the vitamin could possibly increase your risk of skin cancer. Go outside and get your vitamin D from the sun when possible—no sunscreen for 20 minutes or so. Researchers don't agree on an appropriate dose of vitamin D—although they agree it should be D3—doses do seem to be increasing. I take 4,000 daily units a day when I cannot get enough sun.
• Folic acid has been associated with a reduced risk of TNBC, and has been shown to counter the effects of alcohol.
• Calcium is important, especially for post-menopausal women. Try to get it through dairy, if you can tolerate it.
• Fish oil, or Omega 3s, help your body fight a multitude of ills. The safety of fish can be confusing—does it have mercury or other toxins?—so this might be a case in which the supplement itself makes sense.
• Check out the Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Diet for more details.
• The National Institutes of Health offer information on vitamins and herbs and supplements.