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Cancer is an abomination. The disease kills millions of people every year despite the best minds working tirelessly to find a cure. However, you can modify your risk of developing cancer, although the means of doing this are not always obvious.

Some ways are obvious: cutting down on processed meat and not smoking are no brainers.

However, seemingly healthy decisions can present hidden health risks. Research into dietary supplements illustrates this.

The natural supplement market is booming but most people should get all the nutrients and minerals they need via food.

Indeed, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, ties the “longer term” use of three natural supplements to a heightened risk of lung cancer.

The authors examined associations of supplemental beta-carotene, retinol, prednisone overdose antidote vitamin A, lutein, and lycopene with lung cancer risk among participants.

Beta carotene is a dietary compound and an important source of vitamin A. Retinol is another derivative of vitamin A and lutein is a type of organic pigment called a carotenoid. It is related to beta-carotene and vitamin A.

All sources can be found in food but some people choose to take supplements containing the vitamins too.

To examine the associations between the above supplements and lung cancer risk, researchers drew on data from participants in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort Study in Washington State.

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VITAL is a cohort study of the associations of supplement use with cancer risk.

In 2000–2002, eligible persons completed a 24-page questionnaire, including detailed questions about supplement use (duration, frequency, dose) during the previous 10 years from multivitamins and individual supplements/mixtures.

Lung cancer incidents through December 2005 were identified by linkage to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registry.

What did the researchers learn?

According to the researchers, “longer duration of use of individual β-carotene, retinol, and lutein supplements (but not total 10-year average dose) was associated with statistically significantly elevated risk of total lung cancer”.

“There was little evidence for effect modification by gender or smoking status,” they noted.

“Long-term use of individual β-carotene, retinol, and lutein supplements should not be recommended for lung cancer prevention, particularly among smokers.”

What Cancer Research UK says

“There is no reliable evidence that any dietary supplement can help to prevent cancer.”

The charity continues: “Some research has found that taking certain supplements could increase the risk of some cancers developing.

“There is evidence that a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can reduce your cancer risk.”

For a healthy balanced diet, cut down on:

  • Processed and red meat – eating a lot of processed meat or red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer
  • Alcohol – alcohol causes seven types of cancer. So, whatever your drinking habits, cutting down reduces the risk
  • High-calorie foods and sugary drinks – foods high in fat, sugar or calories can make it harder to keep a healthy weight.

A healthy balanced diet means eating mostly fruit and vegetables, plenty of wholegrains (these include things such as brown pasta and wholegrain bread) and healthier sources of protein such as fresh chicken, fish or pulses (including lentils and beans).

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