Normally people think of vitamins as a healthy way to up your nutrient intake.
New research from the University of Colorado Cancer Center challenges this belief, however, even implying that it could cause cancer.
According to lead researcher Tim Byers, overusing vitamin supplements can spell danger for older Americans, increasing the risk of lung cancer, bowel cancer, and even heart disease by up to 20 percent.
The findings were recently presented to the American Association for Cancer Research.
“The evidence shows people who take more dietary supplements than needed tend to have a higher risk of developing cancer,” says Byers. “We are not sure why this is happening. The supplements were actually not beneficial to their health.”
The study, which included 20 years of research, examined multiple clinical trials which tracked various cancers and vitamin supplements, such as folic acid and vitamin E supplements. Typically, people assume these supplements are healthy because they contains nutrients that improve our health–but in excess that wasn’t shown to be the case.
For instance, in a 2006 study the reviewed, they found that taking a high amount of folic acid supplements actually upped a woman’s breast cancer risk by as much as 19 percent. In addition, having higher levels of this nutrient in general upped this risk by 32 percent–evidence showing that “natural” supplements aren’t necessarily safe.
In addition, a 2011 study found that overusing vitamin E supplements led to even worse outcomes in men, increasing their risk of cancer by 17 percent.
Obviously, this sort of news isn’t good.
“If taken at the correct dosage, multivitamins can be good for you,” says Byers. “But there is no substitute for good, nutritional food. And we have discovered that taking extra vitamins and minerals does more harm than good. In fact, some people got more cancer while on the vitamins.”
Overall, researchers emphasize that it’s not a good idea to depend on vitamins to keep you healthy, especially in large doses. Instead, what matters is a balanced diet, which emphasizes the consumption of a variety of vitamins, and not a larger intake of certain nutrients. This, say health experts, is more likely to keep you healthy–and free of cancer–in the long run.
“If you need a supplement, there’s something wrong with your diet,” says Zoe Harcombe, a diet specialist and author of the Harcombe Diet. “We haven’t had supplements for most of the time humans have been around.”
What You Should Do
The news isn’t good: Depending on supplements could trigger cancer. To stay free of cancer, your best bet is to add more nutritious foods to your diet instead, which naturally enhance your body’s immunity and keep free radicals at bay.
Readers: What do you eat to lower your cancer risk?