There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to put a spotlight on personal health, and many people find themselves turning to supplements as a magic cure for their ills.
Be careful, says Provision Health and Performance Center nutritionist Casey Coffey, who has tangled with patients’ long lists of vitamins and natural remedies. One website offers a list of “20 herbs that can help fight cancer,” while a laundry list of vitamin and mineral supplements promise to deliver good health via capsule and pill.
Coffey’s list of truly beneficial supplements is pretty short. The most important thing is to start with a clean, healthy, nutritionally-complete diet plan, she says—then use supplementation sparingly. She spoke on the subject at a recent patient talk at the Provision Center for Proton Therapy.
“You can’t out-supplement a bad diet,” Coffey told attendees.
However, a few spices and supplements can truly make a difference in overall health. Coffey recommends the following:
• Garlic: A virtual storehouse of vitamins and minerals, garlic helps boost immunity, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, aid brain function and help detoxify the body
• Ginger: Shown by research to aid in digestion, relieve nausea, reduce pain and inflammation, it also contains a laundry list of vitamins and minerals.
• Hot chili peppers: Can boost metabolism, particularly for those who aren’t accustomed to a spicy diet, alleviate pain and aid in dermatologic conditions. There is also some indication they may help prevent prostate cancer.
• Turmeric: Both an anti-inflammatory and a powerful antioxidant, turmeric is available in capsule form (to avoid ruining the flavor of a dish with high quantities of this potent spice)
• Omega-3 fatty acid: Lowers risk of heart disease, helps cholesterol and potentially eaffects brain health with an impact on depression and ADHD. Found in fish or cod liver oil and sometimes labeled as α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
• Vitamin D: Look for vitamin D3/cholecalciferol
That last one on the list has received some bad press lately, thanks to research published in the noted medical journal Lancet that found supplementing with vitamin D did not offer significant health benefits. Many people have deficits of this vitamin, taken in naturally through sunlight. Medical experts have indicated effects of vitamin D deficiency can range from muscle aches and weakness and bone pain to osteoporosis to loss of cognitive function to asthma in children.
But Coffey doesn’t think the study means it’s time to give up on supplementing with vitamin D. First of all, she says, it’s crucial to have your vitamin D level tested, so you’ll know if a deficiency exists and how much large a dose to take. People who already have normal levels of the vitamin won’t benefit from supplementing, and those who lack it will need to aggressively tackle restoring their levels to normal range, she says.
“A large dose is required to bring levels back into normal range, and that should be monitored by a physician and adjusted as the levels begin to normalize,” Coffey says, adding that a daily recommended dose of vitamin D is not enough to bring levels up to normal, and restoring the proper amount can take a significant amount of time.
She also notes that there are too many variables in the study to truly account for the impact of vitamin D on a person’s overall health.
And, going back to the short list of supplements, Coffey says taking vitamin D in combination with an Omega 3 fatty acid provides for optimal absorption of the nutrient.