As an oncology dietitian, I always encourage patients to eat a balanced diet of “whole unprocessed foods.” However, there are times when some patients need to use supplements along with conventional treatments in partnership with their physician. Below are 10 tips for cancer patients who have decided to use supplements (after consulting with their healthcare team).
1. Speak up! Report all supplement use to your healthcare team.
2. Have a reason. Patients should only take supplements to prevent a deficiency, manage side effects or co-manage a medical condition.
3. Be informed. Many supplements are metabolized through the same pathway as medications you may be taking. As a result, they may carry a risk for interaction with medication (including oral chemotherapy). Know the evidence to support the supplements you choose, and ask your doctor, registered dietitian and pharmacist about potential interactions.
4. Look over the label – thoroughly. Choose a supplement with the seal of approval from US Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, or NSF International to get the best product possible. Make sure you read the fine print and all the disclaimers on the bottle.
5. Ask questions, if your supplement does not provide the expected benefit. There may be significant differences in the quality of various supplements. For example, if you are taking a magnesium supplement for a low magnesium level, and your magnesium level is not increasing, you should question the product.
6. Know your body. Be aware that supplements can be contaminated with drugs, pesticides and heavy metals. If you have an adverse event after starting a new supplement, stop taking it, and report the reaction to your doctor.
7. Be skeptical! If it sounds “too good to be true,” it probably is. “Bad” supplements are sold via multi-level marketing schemes, have exaggerated claims and a price that is often unwarranted.
8. Not all supplements are created equal. Make sure you know exactly what you are getting in your supplement. Supplements stating they are proprietary blends may not disclose how much of each ingredient they contain and may contain sub-par levels of ingredients.
9. Don’t mix and match. Consider the combination of your supplements. If you are taking a multi-vitamin and other supplements containing a nutrient in the multi-vitamin, you may be exceeding the tolerable limit.
10. Supplements aren’t substitutes. Most importantly, remember that a supplement is never a replacement for a healthy diet.
Shayne Robinson, RD CSO CDN is an oncology dietitian formerly with WCM/NYP’s Ambulatory Care Network’s Outpatient Practice. To see a dietitian at our outpatient nutrition practice call (212) 746-0838. Physician referral required.