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by Ross, R.Ph. Pelton, Lee Overholser

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Nutritional Supplements

MILLIONS OF Americans are malnourished, yet nutritional supplementation is still an area of major controversy. There are several questions that need to be answered. Do we get enough vitamins in the food we eat? Can people benefit from taking nutritional supplements? What levels of supplements are best?

Most of the clinics offering alternative cancer therapies place their patients on high levels of nutritional supplements. The majority of cancer patients whom I have worked with had not taken vitamin supplements. Of course, this does not prove that they would have prevented cancer with supplements, but it is a revealing observation.

Before discussing why we may need nutritional supplements, let's discuss what nutrients our bodies regularly need.

Essential Nutrients

For optimum health and wellness our bodies need to get all the essential nutrients. Understanding the concept of essential nutrients is very important:

• Essential nutrients are those that the body HAS TO HAVE to stay healthy.


If the body cannot manufacture the essential nutrients, that leaves only two possibilities: we can get the essential nutrients from the food we eat or we can get them from nutritional supplements.

There are forty-five essential nutrients for humans: twenty minerals, fifteen vitamins, eight amino acids, and two fatty acids. Ideally, everybody should get optimal amounts of all these nutrients on a daily basis, j

The American Diet

There is convincing evidence that the standard American diet does not meet the nutritional needs of Americans. In fact, some health professionals are referring to the standard American diet by its acronym and calling it the SAD diet. The United States Department of Agriculture has published the following estimates of the percentage of Americans who are not getting the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) of essential nutrients: (3)


USDA Recommended Daily Allowances





Vitamin B1 


Magnesium  75%
Calcium 68%

Vitamin A


Vitamin B1 


Vitamin C 41%
Vitamin B2 34%
Vitamin B12 34%

Vitamin B3


Data from the well-known and respected NHANES II study has shown that on any given day 91 percent of the American population do not meet the USDA/DHHS guidelines of eating two or more servings of fruits and three or more servings of vegetables. (5) Furthermore, on any given day 11 percent of Americans had no fruit or vegetables at all, 45 percent ate no fruit, and 22 percent had no servings of vegetables.

The results of the NHANES II study seem to be in conflict with the FDA booklet "Myths of Vitamins," which states, "Foods can and do supply most Americans with adequate nutrients." (4)

Hew York City Schools Diet Study

A very revealing dietary study led to changes in the breakfasts and lunches eaten daily by over 800,000 children at the 803 schools in the New York City public schools from 1979 to 1983. (6) The amounts of sugar, synthetic food colorings, synthetic flavors, and preservatives were reduced in the meals served throughout the city school system.

Tracking back for a number of years before the study, the researchers found that the academic test scores for the New York City schools never varied more than 1 percent. The dietary changes, which were instituted gradually over the four-year period, enabled the New York City public schools to register an astounding 15.7-percent increase in the mean academic ranking, measured against the rest of the nation's schools.

Another interesting and very important correlation revealed by this study is that, before the dietary improvements were made, the schools where students ate the most cafeteria-prepared meals had the lowest overall academic performance within the New York City school system. After the dietary revisions, this situation was reversed. The schools where students ate the most cafeteria-prepared meals that were healthy had the highest academic scores.

Another study, published in the January \9SS Lancet, showed that a one-a-day vitamin pill taken throughout the school year by a group of twelve- and thirteen-year-old British schoolchildren produced increases in IQ scores. (1)

Studies like these indicate that most Americans are not getting the nourishment they need from the standard American diet, the SAD diet. It is safe to conclude that most people, including cancer patients, can and will benefit from taking nutritional supplements.

Cancer and Supplements

There is a tendency for traditional nutritionists to take the position that no vitamin and mineral supplementation is necessary. The common statement is "We can get all the nutrients we need from a healthy diet." As a result thousands of studies that indicate the value of supplements are ignored, and tlie^few that show little or no benefit from supplements are overemphasized.

One paper that suggests that vitamin supplements have no value in cancer prevention appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. (8) However, health professionals who have examined this paper point out several major design flaws. The participants in the study were taking low levels of supplemental nutrients. Smoking and life-style were not evaluated. Other dietary factors were not monitored. (2)

The body of research on nutritional cancer prevention is thoroughly reviewed in two recently published studies: "Nutritional Approach to Cancer Prevention with Emphasis on Vitamins, Antioxidants, and Carotenoids" (7) and "Vegetables, Fruits, and Carotenoids and the Risk of Cancer." (9) Both studies conclude that certain vitamins and minerals contribute greatly to the prevention of cancer.

In fact, the evidence for the anticancer benefits of vitamin and mineral supplements is now so overwhelming that a prestigious cancer treatment center is promoting its own high-potency nutritional supplement. The M. D. Anderson Cancer Institute in Houston, Texas, is marketing a nutritional supplement to help prevent cancer.

RDA Under Fire

There is currently a major debate over whether the RDA levels of nutrients are appropriate nutritional standards and guidelines. The FDA defines the RDAs as the amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals people need each day to stay healthy. Health in this case means absence of disease caused by severe nutritional deficiencies. The FDA takes the position that the RDAs provide a margin of safety for most people that meets their minimum needs for most nutrients.

The argument concerns the meaning of the word adequate. The RDAs are a guideline that is designed to protect the majority of American people from getting nutritional deficiency diseases such as scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and beriberi (vitamin B, (deficiency). However, the amount of a nutrient needed to prevent jthe deficiency diseases is much lower than the level of nutrients ¦our bodies need to perform at peak levels of health and wellness. In a published interview Senator William Proxmire commented, 
"The RDA standard is established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council, which is influenced, dominated and financed in part by the food industry. The Board is both the creature of the food industry and heavily financed by the food industry." He went on to say, "At best, the RDAs are only a 'recommended' allowance at obsolete levels designed to prevent some terrible disease. At worst, they are based on the conflicts of interest and self-serving views of certain portions of the food industry. Almost never are they provided at levels to provide for optimum health and nutrition."

At issue here is the difference between adequate and optimal. The RDAs are like the minimum wage. Very few people target the minimum wage as their lifelong goal and symbol of success. Neither should we view the RDAs as anything other than the minimum nutritional standard, having nothing to do with optimal health and wellness.

The studies mentioned in this chapter indicate that most Americans can benefit from nutritional supplements. There is also ample evidence that our intake of nutrients should not be "targeted at the RDA levels, but at higher levels that might more Successfully promote optimal health and wellness.

Most of the doctors and clinics that promote alternative cancer therapies make high-level nutritional supplementation a part of their program. It only makes sense that, if we are trying to heal Jhe body, we should provide optimal nutritional support for the healing process.

Food Processing

Another reason that most people don't get adequate nutrition from their regular diet has to do with modern agriculture and food processing. The nutritional content of the diet of our forefathers fifty to one hundred years ago was far different from what we are getting today.

The development of the food processing industry since World War II and the explosion of fast-food restaurants since the 1960s have both played a major role in decreasing the average daily nutritional intake of many Americans. /

Most people are not aware of the fact that an enormous change has taken place in our food supply in the last fifty years. We no longer have an agricultural food supply. We now have an industrialized food supply. Factory farming techniques use tons of toxic pesticides and insecticides. Nutrients that are vital and essential to human health are gradually and continually depleted from the soil and not replenished. Plants are force grown and often picked or harvested before they are ripe so they can be shipped, stored, and frozen.

RDAs and Health

The potential positive benefits of vitamins and minerals are not investigated in setting RDAs, only the negative effects of deficiency. There is still a very strong prejudice, on the part of the traditional medical establishment, against the possibility that vitamins and minerals can promote health.

The indication in the preceding chapters that cancer can be prevented and treated by supplements means that giving cancer patients supplements makes good sense, both for improving their general health and for altering the conditions under which the cancer thrives. The traditional assumption is that once a cancer has developed, it takes on a life of its own. Alternative approaches tend to view cancer as an ongoing process. There is a relationship between the cancer and the host that produced the cancer, sustains it, and makes it possible for more cancers to develop. In this approach high-level nutrition alters that relationship, treating existing cancers and making it less likely that new cancers will appear.

Nutritional Supplements

Side Effects and Toxicity

The scientific literature does not report any harmful side effects or toxicity at the dosage levels of nutritional supplements that are discussed in this book. Several of the important nutritional supplements can produce noninjurious side effects when taken in higher dosages. For example, it has been noted that high levels of beta-carotene can cause a slight orange tint to build up in the skin, and excess vitamin C can produce diarrhea in some people.

Only in cases of gross negligence would toxicity be possible. For example, high levels of selenium intake could kill an  individual.

However, it should be stressed that, according to the Department of Agriculture, tens of millions of people in the United States are undernourished, not even getting the RDA levels of some of the most important essential nutrients. These deficiencies are known to contribute to the current epidemic of chronic degenerative disease. On the other hand, toxicities from the same nutrients occur only anecdotally in the literature. Properly informed consumers, receiving medical guidance when necessary; can be trusted to use supplements responsibly in the vast majority of cases.


The dosages of nutritional supplements used in most of the alternative cancer therapies are much higher than the RDA levels. However, as mentioned above, these levels of supplementation rarely produce harmful side effects.

There is continuing controversy over dosage levels of nutritional supplements, and health professionals involved with alternative therapies recommend different levels, according to their approach. The following are ranges of nutritional supplementation that I feel confident in recommending to adult cancer patients I have worked with:


Vitamin C 1,000 to 2,000 mg with each meal 
Vitamin E 400 IU twice daily
Beta-carotene 25,000 to 50,000 IU with each meal
Selenium 100 mcg at each meal
Organic germanium 100 to 300 mg daily
Omega-3 fatty acid (flaxseed oil) 1 to 2 tablespoons daily

Appropriate levels of supplementation for the individual vary according to dietary levels of nutrients, health, and any disease conditions. For those planning to include high levels of nutritional supplements in their diet, the guidance of the appropriate health professional is advised.

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