Deborah James discusses 'scary' bowel cancer symptoms
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There are many reasons to take vitamin supplements. One of the primary reasons is to make up for a deficiency in your diet. However, overdoing particular supplements carries health risks, including an increased risk of cancer.
Overdoing folic acid supplementation has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, although the risk is small.
Folic acid is the man-made version of the vitamin folate (also known as vitamin B9). Folate helps the body make healthy red blood cells and is found in certain foods.
The finding is particularly surprising because “strong evidence that getting enough folic acid can help lower your chances of getting certain cancers”, notes the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UBA) Department of Nutrition Sciences.
The health body continues: “Folic acid plays a role in the growth and repair of cells. Some studies show that folic acid blocks cancer in its early stages.”
However, “getting too much folic acid could have the opposite effect by causing cancer cells to grow more easily”, it warns.
The UAB pointed to three studies that showed a small increased risk of cancer.
In the group that researchers supplemented with folic acid, 10.0 percent died of cancer while 8.4 percent of the people in the group that did not get folic acid died of cancer.
In the second study, the difference was 4.0 percent cancer deaths in the folic acid group compared to 2.9 percent in the group that did not get folic acid.
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The risk is therefore tiny. It is also important to note that most adults and children can take folic acid, notes the NHS.
However, it’s not suitable for everyone.
To make sure it’s safe for you, the NHS says to tell your doctor before starting folic acid if you:
- Have had an allergic reaction to folic acid or any other medicine in the past
- Have low vitamin B12 levels (vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia) or pernicious anaemia
- Have cancer (unless you also have folate deficiency anaemia)
- Are having a type of kidney dialysis called haemodialysis
- Have a stent in your heart.
Do I need to take vitamin supplements?
According to Bupa, you should be able to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
For each day, this includes:
- At least five portions of fruit and vegetables
- Wholegrain starchy foods
- Dairy foods
- Meat, fish or alternatives such as beans and pulses.
In fact, following a healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of developing cancer.
It is estimated that healthier diets could prevent around one in 20 cancers. Cancer Research UK attributes this effect in part to helping you maintain a healthy weight.
“For most of us, diet has a big impact on our weight. Keeping a healthy weight is important because obesity is a cause of 13 different types of cancer,” notes the charity.
It is fiendishly difficult to draw conclusions “because our diets are made up of lots of different types of food and drink”, says Cancer Research UK.
“But there is good evidence that having an overall healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer.”
According to the charity, there are some foods that are directly linked to cancer, but our overall diet is more important than these individually.
It recommends a diet high in:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Whole grains (such as brown rice or whole grain bread)
- Healthy sources of protein like fresh chicken, fish or pulses (such as lentils or beans).
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