Vitamin C Vindicated
Researchers are still arguing over vitamin C and colds. But vitamin C may offer protection against lots of other conditions, including cancer.
A diet high in vitamin C has been strongly linked to a lower risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, and pancreas. Weaker data exist for cancers of the breast, cervix, and rectum. However, it's hard to separate the effects of vitamin C from those of beta-carotene, because many fruits and vegetables are rich in both.
In fact, studies show it may be the combination of the two that's important, which is yet another reason to get your antioxidants from foods rather than supplements whenever possible. Indeed, the few studies in which vitamin C was provided by supplement have not shown any cancer-fighting benefits.
Optimism Over E
Research appears to support vitamin E's contribution to cutting the risk of some types of cancers. The evidence is strongest for prostate cancer, where vitamin E, along with selenium, seems to offer protection. Other links include a possible reduction in the risk of cancers of the stomach and lung and perhaps of the bladder, colon, and rectum.
But vitamin E is unique. While its merit as an antioxidant is accepted by many scientists, it only appears to be of value when consumed in amounts far greater than what you can get from foods. Because vitamin E is fat soluble, the foods richest in it tend to be high in fat -- such as vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, nuts, and wheat germ -- so it's not a very practical nutrient to seek out in large amounts in the diet. Otherwise, you may find yourself overloading on calories.
What to do? As a start, be sure to eat lots of whole grains, fortified cereals, leafy greens, and fish to obtain a baseline level of E. To boost your intake into the potentially cancer-fighting range -- about 100 International Units (IU) daily -- without overdosing on fat, however, you would need to add a supplement. (Many studies are conducted using 800 IU, but there's evidence to show you don't need this much to gain benefits.) Although many experts are optimistic about vitamin E's possibilities, they have stopped short of recommending such a supplement until further research is done. Certainly, at this point, if you are considering a vitamin E supplement, discuss it with your health care professional first.
Vitamins aren't the only beneficial assets in preventing cancer. In the next section, we will look at the minerals and fiber that also have certain risk-reducing properties.
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