10 Best Supplements to Fight Cancer: Evidence Based Literature Review (2024)

It can be difficult to determine which dietary supplements may be beneficial for cancer prevention or treatment, as many do not have the scientific evidence to support the use. This article compiles more than 100 references and supporting studies related to cancer and supplements.

It's important to note that dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way that medications are, and the safety and effectiveness of these products may not be fully established.

 
    People take supplements for different reasons. The main function of dietary supplements is to do exactly what the name implies — supplement an existing diet. Vitamins and mineral tablets aren’t meant to take the place of a healthy and nutritious diet.

    That being said, taking the right supplements with a nutritious and well-rounded diet can provide a host of added health benefits.

    For example, supplements can fill in the nutritional gaps of your diet, and can even assist the body in preventing and assisting in the treatment of certain kinds of illnesses, including cancer.

    Note: When interpreting scientific studies, let’s remember that cell culture results are trumped by mouse results. Mouse results are trumped by human results. Case studies & small human trial results are trumped by double-blind placebo controlled ones.
     
    When it comes to cancer of any kind, it’s important to realize that no dietary supplement can fully treat or cure cancer, according to BreastCancer.org. However, there are some supplements that can potentially help prevent cancer or assist in your cancer recovery. 

    While many vitamins and minerals can benefit your general health, there’s a huge market of unregulated supplements that may provide no added benefit to your health. Certain supplements even have the potential to negatively impact cancer treatments. This is because some supplements can counteract medications or medical therapies. If you’re thinking about supplementing your diet with anti-cancer vitamins, always talk to your doctor first.

    1. Vitamin D3, K2 and Magnesium

    Vitamin D can absorb calcium and help the immune, muscle, and nervous systems function properly.
     
    According to BreastCancer.orgresearch suggestsTrusted Source that certain cancers such as breast cancer, can have a higher risk of occurring when the body has low levels of vitamin D. 

    Studies also show a link between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer (Sizar, 2020).

    In 2016, a landmark study published in PLOS ONE found that women over 55 with blood concentrations of vitamin D higher than 40 ng/ml, had a 67% lower risk of cancer compared women with levels lower than 20 ng/ml.

    The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 15 mcg. Vitamin D can be absorbed through sunlight, or with the following diet: 
    • fatty fish 
    • egg yolks 
    • fortified milk
    Make sure to take 500 mg to 1000 mg of magnesium and 150 mcg of vitamin K2, (not K1) which are important cofactors for optimizing vitamin D function. And, remember the only way you know what your vitamin D level is, is to test it. Vitamin D level should be in a therapeutic range of 50 to 70 ng/ml for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Most people are shocked how low their level is when they finally get around to testing it.


    2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    Most people use fish oil supplements to enhance the amount of omega-3’s in their diet. 

    Findings from a study performed in mice, research from Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston demonstrated omega-3 fat could reduce tumor growth by 67% (R).

    The research was presented April 4, 2022 at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in Philadelphia. The animal model showed that omega-3 fatty acids helped promote the cancer-fighting activities of immunotherapy and anti-inflammatory therapy.

    Many governments recommend eating omega-3 containing fatty fish, two times per week. But that is often not enough. Ideally, people would need to eat fatty fish four times per week, while also supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, at least 1,000 mg of pure omega-3 (DHA and EPA) per day.

    However, fish oil was shown in one study on mice (2015)Trusted Source to possibly reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy, and for that reason ground flax seed is a worthy alternative.

    Flax seed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of certain cancers. When supplementing, try to avoid flaxseed oil because it lacks the nutrients of ground flax seed. Ground flax seed can be purchased online or found in many larger grocery store chains. Simply sprinkle some ground flax seed on your food and enjoy.

    Make sure you buy high-quality omega-3 fatty acid supplements, meaning that the omega-3 fatty acids are pure and have not oxidized much (having low “TOTOX” value).

    TOTOX value stands for total oxidation value. The omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil are highly sensitive to oxidation. This means that they are rapidly affected by contact with oxygen. Oxidised fatty acids are not beneficial to our health. For this reason, a good fish oil supplement has a low TOTOX value. The maximum TOTOX value is set at 26 by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega-3.
     
    Related: Researchers Showed Omega-3 Could Cut Tumor Growth by 67%

    3. Green tea (EGCG)

    Several in vitro, in vivo, and epidemiological studies have reported that the consumption of green tea may decrease cancer risk. Studies have also confirmed numerous health benefits of green tea including prevention of cancer (RR) and cardiovascular disease, as well as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiarthritic, antibacterial, and antiviral effects. (RRRR).

    Green tea also contains chemicals called polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

    The Minnesota Green Tea Trial (MGTT. 2015) is the largest and longest double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized intervention study that specifically evaluated the effects of oral GTE (green tea extract) containing defined quantities of EGCG on established biomarkers of breast cancer risk.

    They randomized and stratified 1075 healthy postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer according to their breast tissue density and catechol-O-methyltransferase genotypes and divided them into two groups: 537 placebo and 538 green tea groups. Green tea group participants took 4 capsules that contained 843 mg EGCG, whereas the placebo group took capsules without green tea extracts.

    Researchers measured changes in percent mammographic density, circulating endogenous sex hormones, and proteins of the insulin-like growth factor axis. Their results showed that supplementation with green tea extract could modify and reduce mammographic density (MD) and protect against breast cancer, even though it was only significant in younger women (50–55 years) and had no effect in older women (R), an age-dependent effect similar to those of tamoxifen.

    If you have cancer, consider drinking up to 3 cups of green tea per day to experience the benefits. Green tea pills are also available, but may be too concentrated.

    Some studies show health benefits in people who drink as little as one cup per day, while other studies deem five or more cups per day to be optimal (Source, Source).

    4. Garlic

    Garlic is a great choice when it comes to giving your body a little extra protection. To reap the benefits of garlic, you should eat one clove per day, or 300 to 1,000 milligrams (mg)Trusted Source of garlic extract.
    Protective effects may include: 
    • antibacterial properties
    • blocking and halting the activation of cancer-causing substances
    • enhanced DNA repair
    • a reduction in cancer cells spreading
    The active component in garlic is allicin, a compound that has been shown to kill off cancer cells in multiple test-tube studies (SourceSourceSource).

    A study (Food Chemistry, 2009) where they dripped raw, fresh vegetable juice onto petri dish with cancer cells found that garlic inhibited all cancer lines including breast, lung, pancreatic, stomach and kidney.

    Several clinical studies have found an association between garlic intake and a lower risk of certain types of cancer.

    One study of 543,220 participants found that those who ate lots of Allium vegetables, such as garlic, onions, leeks and shallots, had a lower risk of stomach cancer than those who rarely consumed them (Source).

    A study of 471 men showed that a higher intake of garlic was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer (Source).

    Another study found that participants who ate lots of garlic, as well as fruit, deep yellow vegetables, dark green vegetables and onions, were less likely to develop colorectal tumors. However, this study did not isolate the effects of garlic (Source).

    Based on these findings, including 2–5 grams (approximately one clove) of fresh garlic into your diet per day can help you take advantage of its health-promoting properties.

    Despite the promising results showing an association between garlic and a reduced risk of cancer, more studies are needed to examine whether other factors play a role.

    5. Turmeric / Curcumin

    The Indian spice turmeric can be extremely helpful when it comes to fighting cancer. Studies show that the curcumin in turmeric may kill cancer cells and slow tumor growth. This preclinical research has taken curcumin from the lab to the clinic. 

    In 2022, there are more than 50 clinical trials with curcumin, most of which are still ongoing.

    Curcumin has also been identified as one of the most powerful chemopreventive and anticancer agents, and recognized for its wide spectrum of pharmacological properties and inhibitory effects on metabolic enzymes, according to PubChem, which notes its wound healing and antimicrobial effects, and states:

    "Curcumin blocks the formation of reactive-oxygen species, possesses anti-inflammatory properties as a result of inhibition of cyclooxygenases (COX) and other enzymes involved in inflammation; and disrupts cell signal transduction by various mechanisms including inhibition of protein kinase C.

    These effects may play a role in the agent's observed antineoplastic properties, which include inhibition of tumor cell proliferation and suppression of chemically induced carcinogenesis and tumor growth in animal models of cancer."

    The benefits of curcumin may include: 
    • blocking cancer cells from multiplying
    • killing colon, breast, prostate, and melanoma cancer cells
    • slowing tumor growth
    Another study showed curcumin as able to suppress cancer proliferation and apoptosis (programmed cell death), thereby acting as a chemopreventive agent in skin, colon and stomach cancers. Other studies using animal models list breast, bladder, brain, esophageal, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas and prostate cancers, and more.

    Significantly, the active elements in curcumin attack cancer while leaving healthy cells untouched. For the purpose of disease intervention, while turmeric is available in powdered form, it contains very little of the active compounds in curcumin, or only about a 3% curcumin concentration.

    Because it's not easily absorbed through your gastrointestinal tract, it's more effective to use a high-quality bioavailable curcumin extract, according to a 2013 study. A typical anticancer dose is just under 1 teaspoon of curcumin extract three or four times daily.

    6. Molecular Hydrogen



    1975 - Although hydrogen gas was studied as a therapy in a skin squamous carcinoma mouse model back in 1975 (Science. 1975), its potential in medical application has not been vastly explored.

    2007 - Oshawa et al. reported that hydrogen could ameliorate cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury by selectively reducing cytotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS), including hydroxyl radical (•OH) and peroxynitrite (ONOO-) [Nat Med. 2007], which then provoked a worldwide attention.

    2008 - In human cancer cells, hydrogen water suppressed tumor growth by reducing oxidative stress (Oncol Res. 2008). Hydrogen water also blocked the creation of new blood vessels in human lung cancer cells, preventing cancer from spreading and growing [Biol Pharm Bull. 2008].

    2010 - Hydrogen water combined with increased temperature (hyperthermia) had a strong cancer-killing effect in cells [Oncol Rep. 2010].

    2011 - A study of 49 patients (published in 2011) on radiation therapy for liver cancer, drinking hydrogen water (1.5 – 2 L/day) improved the patients’ quality of life and appetite. Hydrogen water could reduce oxidative stress and damage from radiation without compromising its cancer-killing effects [R].

    2015 - In a lab study published in 2015 (PeerJ. 2015), hydrogen water administration improved the survival of mice with colon 26-induced cancer. Furthermore, hydrogen water enhanced cell death in cancer cells. Hydrogen water also increased the inhibitory effect of 5-FU on colon 26 cells. Additionally, high-content hydrogen water exhibited stronger anti-oxidative and anticancer activity than did the natural hydrogen water.

    2017 -  A study (published in the Molecular and Clinical Oncology), evaluated the protective effect of hydrogen-rich water on liver function of colorectal cancer patients treated with chemotherapy in 152 patients. The hydrogen-rich water group exhibited protective effect against the chemotherapy related liver injury [R].

    2019 - The first case report of hydrogen inhalation therapy in a patient with metastatic Gall Bladder Cancer was published by a team in China. The patient has gradually improved and has survived for more than 10 months (Onco Targets Ther. 2019).

    In a review paper on hydrogen gas and cancer treatment, it was suggested that hydrogen gas may work alone or synergistically with other therapy to suppress tumor growth (Front Oncol. 2019).

    In Japan, patients with stage IV colorectal cancer inhaled H2 gas for 3 h/day in their own homes and received chemotherapy. H2 gas improved progression-free survival and overall survival times (Oncol Rep. 2019).

    In China, 82 patients with stage III and IV cancer (advanced cancer) were prospectively followed-up, after treatment with Hydrogen (H2) inhalation. No severe blood toxicity was observed. H2 Inhalation of H2 gas induced complete and partial remission in tumors of the 80 patients (Med Gas Res. 2019). Most of the cancer types are mainly solid tumors with 19 non-small cell lung cancer, 16 gynecological cancer, 11 hepato-cellular cancer, 10 breast cancer, 6 gastrointestinal cancer, 6 urological cancer and 8 other types of advanced cancer. 

    2020 - An updated review was published in 2020 (Med Gas Res. 2020).

    One clinical trial (NCT03818347) is now on-going to study hydrogen gas in cancer rehabilitation for multiple cancer types in China. 2 publications that are associated with this research data have been
    published.

    The first publication (Ann Palliat Med. 2019) was case reports of 3 nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) patients with radiotherapy-induced hearing loss. This is the first study to show that, after treatment for nasopharyngeal carcinoma, hearing loss can be reduced using hydrogen-oxygen therapy.

    The second publication (Med Gas Res. 2020), 58 patients with advanced non-small lung cancer were enrolled into 5 groups:
    1) refused drug treatment (control group)
    2) refused drug treatment (hydrogen therapy only)
    3) H2 + chemotherapy, 
    4) H2 + targeted therapy, and 
    5) H2 + immunotherapy group.

    After 16 months of follow-up, progression-free survival of the control group was lower than that of the H2-only group, and significantly lower than that of H2 + chemotherapy, H2 + targeted therapy, and H2 + immunotherapy groups.

    7. Quercetin

    Quercetin is an antioxidant flavonol that's found in foods such as red grapes, green tea, elderflower and onions, to name a few. As the health benefits of the supplement become more widely known, the market has grown rapidly (R). According to market research, quercetin market was worth $261.12 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $406.58 million in 2027.

    2022 - A paper published in August 2022 in Nutrition Research analyzed the pro-apoptotic effect that quercetin has on aging cells. The paper reviewed preclinical and early phase data using quercetin as a senolytic agent and found the data showed it was effective in “preventing or alleviating cancer formation.”

    The authors reviewed the importance of cellular aging in the development of cancer cells and the effect that quercetin may have on the suppression of cancer cell proliferation. 

    Cellular senescence is a dynamic and multi-step process that is associated with alterations in metabolic activity and gene expression.11 This can compromise tissue regeneration and contribute to aging. On the other hand, by removing senescent cells, age-related dysfunction can be attenuated and potentially extend the lifespan.

    2020 - Another paper (2020) identified some of the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antiproliferative properties quercetin has that enhances breast cancer treatment, while another (2020) evaluated its effect on the treatment of ovarian cancer, which is a serious cancer growth and threat to women's health.

    2019 - Research also has demonstrated that quercetin can promote the loss of cell viability and autophagy through several pathways, including those involving mitochondrial function and glucose metabolism.

    This study published in 2017 in Oncology Reports took things a step further, finding that quercetin induced cancer cell death in nine types of cancer, including prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast caner.

    In another 2017 study, researchers gave quercetin to mice with tumors. Researchers found that mice in the quercetin-treated group showed delayed tumor growth, no significant changes in daily behavior, significantly better survival ratings, and increased rates of cell death.

    Quercetin may also target bladder cancer. In 2016, researchers published a landmark study in the American Journal of Cancer Research. Researchers analyzed quercetin’s effect on cancer cells in a test tube. They concluded, “We are the first to show that quercetin displays potent inhibition on bladder cancer cells via activation of AMPK pathway.”

    In 2015, researchers reviewed available test tube and animal studies on quercetin and prostate cancer. After reviewing available evidence, researchers found that quercetin suppressed cell growth and induced cell death in prostate cancer cells.

    Lab studies (2011) have also demonstrated that quercetin is a strong antioxidant and has pro-apoptotic effects on tumor cells, with the ability to block growth at different phases of the cell cycle.      

    Data (2015) indicate that quercetin could play a role in cancer treatment as it reportedly has synergistic effects in combination with chemotherapy agents or radiation therapy. Quercetin has also shown promising results with chemoprotective and radioprotective properties, by protecting normal cells against the effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

    According to Mount Sinai, quercetin should be used with caution as it may interact with certain antibiotics by reducing the effectiveness of the drug. It may also enhance the effect of some blood thinners, which can increase your risk of bleeding. In addition to these, it may interact with corticosteroids, digoxin, cyclosporine and fluoroquinolones.

    Early research on the cancer-fighting benefits of quercetin is promising, although more research needs to be performed to verify these effects in humans.

    8. Melatonin

    Melatonin is one of the most important antioxidant molecules. In the human body — aside from having direct antioxidant effects — it also stimulates the synthesis of glutathione and other important antioxidants like superoxide dismutase and catalase.

    Many people are not aware that only 5% of your body’s melatonin — which is also a potent anticancer agent — is produced in your pineal gland. The other 95% is produced inside your mitochondria — provided you get sufficient near infrared exposure which is typically from sun on your bare skin. This is why vitamin D is more than likely a biomarker for sun exposure, which is intricately involved in melatonin production. (R)
    A case series of 14 advanced cancer patients (Trends in Oncology 2020), treated with high dose (1,000 mg/day) of melatonin; achieved a disease control of 54% of the patients. 

    The authors also concluded that:

    "Moreover, this preliminary study may also suggest that high dose melatonin has no toxicity in cancer patients with poor clinical status, as well as in healthy subjects."
    @briomedical Melatonin pro-oxidative effects can provide cancer patients with an additional layer of support during conventional, alternative and holistic treatments. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle, but it also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In cancer patients, melatonin can help fight oxidative stress, which can help reduce cancer tumor growth and improve the body’s response to anti-cancer treatments. Furthermore, melatonin can help protect healthy cells from damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy, while also increasing the body’s overall immunity and energy levels. By providing cancer patients with an extra layer of protection against the damaging effects of cancer treatments, melatonin pro-oxidative effects can be an invaluable tool in the fight against cancer. @briomedical #melatonin #melatoninsupplement #cancer #integrativemedicine #alternativetreatment #cancercare #research #science #carcinogen ♬ Storytelling - Adriel

     

    9 - 10. Vitamin C and B6

    Obese women who took vitamin C and B6 at amounts that exceeded the recommended daily intake levels were associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, according to a five-year long South Korean cohort study. 40,432 women without a history of cancer at baseline were included in this study.

    Vitamin C is known as an antioxidant, but at high concentrations, vitamin C can kill cancer cells through a pro-oxidant property (Transl Oncol. 2020). This study has also demonstrated that vitamin C treatment with magnesium supplementation provided more effective anticancer therapy than vitamin C treatment alone.


    High-dose vitamin C cancer therapy was introduced by Linus Pauling and Ewan Cameron [R]. Clinical demonstration results by Pauling and Cameron showed that intravenous injection of 10 g/day of vitamin C extended the survival time of terminal cancer patients by about 4.2 times. However, results from the Mayo Clinic in 1979 showed that the survival time of vitamin C–treated patients was even shorter than that of the placebo group patients [R]. A significant difference between those two research groups was the route of AA administration: intravenous injection and oral administration, respectively. 

    To understand the mechanism of AA's anticancer activity, many research groups have treated colon, prostate, leukemia, lymphoma, brain, and stomach cancer cells and chemically or genetically transformed cancer cells with AA and showed cancer growth inhibition and even cancer cell death through hydrogen peroxide–mediated reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation [R]. In most cases, the pharmacological concentration of vitamin C required for anticancer effects (EC50 value of 1–10 mM) could only be achieved by intravenous administration. Thus, to apply vitamin C as an anticancer therapy, a high intracellular concentration in cancer cells is critically important (R).


    The Hazards of Excessive Vitamin C

    Vitamin C and ascorbic acid can lead to problems if your body is already loaded with oxalates as it is metabolically reduced to oxalic acid during breakdown. 

    Sally Norton, author of “Toxic Superfoods: How Oxalate Overload Is Making You Sick — and How to Get Better,” explains: 

    “The major source of internal oxalate is ascorbic acid or vitamin C ... There are lots of case studies of train wrecks from supplements, and lots of case studies about problems with intravenous vitamin C. Let me tell you my personal story. I had vitamin C chelation ... I didn't know I had an oxalate problem ...

    By the third time, I became harder and harder to stab for the IV needle because now my veins were ropier and rollier and would run away from the needle. That's fibrosis ... I only had IV vitamin C maybe 10 times. But the doctor and the nurse took no notice of this side effect of the treatment — that I was becoming more fibrotic and harder to puncture ...

    It's hubris to say, ‘Oh, well, it's fine. All my patients are doing great on my vitamin C IVs when you're not open to seeing the side effects. One of the studies demonstrated that just with oral supplementation, for not all that long, once they stopped the vitamin C, the level of oxalate in the urine went way up.

    So, while the body's being assaulted by too much vitamin C, it's busy sequestering the oxalate that's forming and holding onto it and protecting the kidneys from devastation, from excessive oxalate load. Once you stop producing or eating too much oxalate, this holding pattern can let go, and now you see much higher oxalate levels in the blood and the urine.”

    For these reasons, if you take vitamin C on a regular basis, Norton recommends limiting it to 250 mg a day. This is enough to meet your nutritional requirements and is unlikely to cause oxalic acid-related trouble. The exception would be if you are septic, in which case large doses of IV ascorbic acid can save your life.


    Precautionary note: Please do not take dosages that exceed recommended daily intake without the guidance of a trusted medical provider.

    Outlook

    When interpreting scientific studies, let’s remember that cell culture results are trumped by mouse results. Mouse results are trumped by human results. Case studies & small human trial results are trumped by double-blind placebo controlled ones.

    The best way to prevent cancer is by maintaining good health, like from eating a nutritious whole-food diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and a healthy lifestyle. While there’s no silver bullet supplement, there are some anti-cancer supplements on the market that may help you keep the disease at bay or stop it from getting worse. Whether you’re living with cancer, a survivor, or just concerned for your health, talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment for you. 

    This article is part of the diet and cancer series. Other diet and cancer related articles:

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