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Discussion on Some Common Dietary Supplements

Although dietary supplements are a controversial topic among the cancer community, there are some that are worth more discussion as they have some potential benefits during or after cancer treatment.



Ginseng has long been known for its medicinal properties.  Specific to cancer research, it has been studied in relation to fatigue.  In a recent randomized trial, ginseng was found to help relive fatigue associated with cancer treatment.1  It is important to only use ginseng under medical supervision and to select capsules or teas that contain pure ground root as the extract may contain ethanol which can promote the estrogenic properties of ginseng (which may be contraindicated in certain types of breast cancer) [i].



Ginger is a well-known root used in many traditional Indian and Asian cuisines.  It has also been used throughout history for medicinal purposes, including the prevention and treatment of nausea.  When ginger supplementation during chemotherapy was studied, it was found to be a helpful additive to anti-nausea therapies.2  Typical use of ginger is in the food form – ginger tea, ginger cookies, and ginger root in cooking.  Powder form in a capsule may also be used only under medical supervision [ii].


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is otherwise known as “the sunshine vitamin” as our bodies can form it from sunlight.  Some people, especially certain races, ages, and those living in global areas without enough sunlight require additional supplementation.  In particular, research reveals that adequate vitamin D levels have been suggested to prevent cancers of the colon and breast.  It is important to discuss vitamin D supplementation with your medical team as supplementation should only be taken under medical supervision [iii].


Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 is a cofactor in energy metabolism and also an antioxidant.  Studies in relation to cancer prevention are not conclusive.  Some studies do suggest benefit in relation to cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscle and function), which can be a side effect of certain chemotherapies but further research is needed.  CoQ10 supplementation can interact with certain medications, most notably blood thinning medications and is considered an antioxidant to use with caution with during chemotherapy [iv].


Fish oil

Fish oil is a beneficial source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory fats that are found in foods like salmon, tuna, mackerel, walnuts, and canola oil.  Supplementation often receives attention for many health conditions, in particular there is supportive evidence of its use in improving heart health.  Dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids from the sources mentioned above has been shown beneficial for cancer prevention as well.  Although fish oil has well known anti-inflammatory benefits, it is important to discuss fish oil supplementation with your medical team as it can interact with certain prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as certain chemotherapy drugs, such as taxol [v].


[i] Barton, Debra et al.  Phase III evaluation of American ginseng to improve cancer-related fatigue: NCCTG trial N07C2  J Clin Oncol 30, 2012 (suppl; asbtr 9001)
[ii] Zick, S. M., Ruffin, M. T., Lee, J., Normolle, D. P., Siden, R., Alrawi, S., and Brenner, D. E. Phase II trial of encapsulated ginger as a treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Support.Care Cancer 2009;17(5):563-572
[iii] Office of Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional
[iv] Natural Standard Database Professional Monograph: Coenzyme Q10 http://www.naturalstandard.com+coenzymeq10.asp
[v] Natural Standard Database Professional Monograph: Fish oil http://www.naturalstandard.com+fishoil.asp




Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master's degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

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