Vitamins are compounds that you must have for growth and health. Although you can usually get all the vitamins you need from your diet, some people take dietary supplements to boost their intake. Taking this approach may present grave health risks, suggests mounting evidence.
A particular dietary supplement – beta-carotene – has been linked to increased lung cancer risk.
“There is strong evidence from randomised controlled trials that high-dose beta-carotene supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer in some people,” warns the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).
Use of beta-carotene has been associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in people who smoke or who have been exposed to asbestos.
One study of 29,000 male smokers found an 18 percent increase in lung cancer in the group receiving 20 mg of beta-carotene a day for five to eight years.
“If you smoke or have a history of smoking or asbestos exposure, you should not take large amounts of beta-carotene supplements for long periods of time,” warns the Mayo Clinic.
The health body continues: “However, foods that are rich in beta-carotene are considered safe and appear to lower the risk of some types of cancer and possibly heart disease.”
Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour.
It’s turned into vitamin A in the body, so it can perform the same jobs in the body as vitamin A.
The main sources of beta-carotene are:
- Yellow and green (leafy) vegetables – such as spinach, carrots and red peppers
- Yellow fruit – such as mango, papaya and apricots.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), you should be able to get the amount of beta-carotene you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.
“If you decide to take beta-carotene supplements, it’s important not to take too much as this could be harmful,” advises the DHSC.
Do not take more than 7mg of beta-carotene supplements a day unless advised to by a doctor.
According to the WCRF, there is no strong evidence that dietary supplements, apart from calcium for colorectal cancer, can reduce cancer risk.
“For most people consumption of the right food and drink is more likely to protect against cancer than dietary supplements,” explains the health body.
As it explains, a dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to achieve levels of consumption of micronutrients or other food components beyond what is usually achievable through diet alone.