Dietary Supplements

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Dietary supplements are ingestible products that contain ingredients that are intended to add nutritional value to the diet. Dietary supplements may be one or a combination of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, metabolites, extract, or a substance to increase the total dietary intake. They come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, liquids, or powders.1

Lung cancer and dietary supplements

Nutrition is critical for cellular support and healing. The treatment for lung cancer can often overwhelm a patient’s nutritional reserve. Lung cancer and its treatment may affect appetite, digestion, and how the body uses nutrients.2

Many people with lung cancer experience loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss, which can lead to malnutrition. In medical terms, loss of appetite is known as anorexia, and the weakness that comes from malnutrition is called cachexia. Approximately half of all cancer patients experience anorexia and cachexia, and at diagnosis, approximately 60% of patients with lung cancer have already experienced substantial weight loss. When these symptoms occur together in cancer patients, it is known as the anorexia-cachexia syndrome (CACS). CACS can cause additional complications for lung cancer patients and negatively affects health and quality of life. In more than 20% of cancer patients, cachexia is the main cause of death. Dietary supplements can help ensure patients receive essential nutrients and maintain a healthy weight.3-5

Benefits of dietary supplements for lung cancer patients

Good nutrition during cancer treatment can help improve quality of life and decrease the side effects and complications experienced from treatment. When a patient with lung cancer is experiencing malnutrition due to their cancer or its treatment, dietary supplements can provide nutrients that are necessary for healing and maintaining a proper weight.2

Recommendations for dietary supplements should be tailored for the individual patient. Physicians or dietitians can provide recommendations after completing an assessment of a patient’s nutritional intake and any imbalances that are present. These needs may change throughout the course of the disease and its treatment.1,2 Some common dietary supplements used by lung cancer patients include:

  • Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, which may improve digestion and immune health
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as found in fish oil, to potentially help reduce inflammation and enhance immunity
  • Melatonin, which may improve sleep and support immune health 6

Patients should discuss with their doctor before taking any dietary supplements as some may interfere with treatment and/or cause unsafe side effects. Patients should also talk to their doctor about any other medications (prescription and over-the-counter), herbal remedies, and any existing supplements they are taking, as well as any other health conditions.6

Finding your individualized plan

Research suggests that diet is responsible for approximately 30% of all cancers, and many studies suggest that diet plays a contributing role in the risk of lung cancer. In particular, low concentrations of antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, have been associated with the development of lung cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a decreased risk of cancer.7

What the research shows

Several studies have shown an increased risk of lung cancer among smokers who use high doses of beta-carotene supplements long-term. In normal, healthy, nonsmokers, beta-carotene supplements show a beneficial effect, however, smokers taking beta-carotene have developed more lung cancer tumors than those not taking the supplement.8

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