Breast cancer patients who take a multivitamin or extra vitamin E experience a smaller decrease in important immune cells, a common side effect of chemotherapy, new research suggests.
Women who took a nutritional supplement, a multivitamin or extra vitamin E had a smaller drop in neutrophils, white blood cells that help fight bacterial infections. However, women with relatively high levels of the B-vitamin folate had a larger drop in neutrophils.
The researchers cautioned that chemotherapy patients should first discuss taking supplements with their doctors, because some supplements may interfere with treatment. For instance, cod liver oil and St. John's Wort may interfere with blood thinning drugs, hormone treatment or chemotherapy.
However, studies have also shown that vitamin E may enhance the benefits and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy, and many doctors now recommend vitamin therapy during treatment.
The research team asked 49 women with breast cancer to complete questionnaires detailing their use of supplements during chemotherapy.
The authors found that more than 70% of the women were taking at least one of 165 different types of supplements. On average, patients took three supplements. The most common supplements were multivitamins, vitamin E and calcium.
Women who took multivitamins or vitamin E alone experienced a smaller decrease in their neutrophils during chemotherapy.
The researchers noted that supplements typically consist of complex chemicals, which can have many possible effects on the metabolism of drugs and the functioning of cells. These effects may be beneficial or detrimental and need to be studied further, they said.
For instance, based on the results with folate, the researchers recommends that cancer patients avoid taking extra folate (folic acid) if they eat a balanced diet, because many foods are already fortified with the B vitamin.
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