Essential Cancer-Fighting Vitamins
All people need vitamins, but vitamins are especially important for patients with mesothelioma, as they support healing and recovery.
If diet quality is poor or a patient has difficulty eating during mesothelioma cancer treatment, vitamin supplements can help. While deficiencies are not as common as they used to be, many people do not get enough of these nutrients for optimal health.
There are 13 essential vitamins, including A, C, D, E and K, plus eight B vitamins. The body can make some vitamin D and K, although most people do not make enough to meet their daily requirement.
Certain vitamins, such as B12 and the B vitamin known as folate, are critical during mesothelioma treatment. However, before taking any supplements, mesothelioma patients should talk to their oncologist about possible interactions and the potential risks of supplementation.
Beta carotene is a form of vitamin A that’s responsible for the orange color in carrots and pumpkin. Beta carotene from food is linked to a lower risk of lung disease among smokers and people exposed to asbestos.
However, large clinical trials show vitamin A and beta carotene supplements increase lung cancer risk and total mortality in smokers and asbestos-exposed people. Therefore, the safest way to get enough vitamin A is to eat carotene-rich plant foods.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Sweet potatoes and carrots
- Tomato juice
Organ meats and other animal foods also contain some vitamin A. Additionally, the body also can make vitamin A from beta carotene and other carotenes in vegetables and fruit.
In addition to its role in cancer risk and prevention, vitamin A supports good vision, immune function, cell-to-cell communication and reproduction.
Eight B vitamins help the body use energy from food for various cell functions. For example, folate and B12 are vital B vitamins for mesothelioma patients.
Certain chemotherapy medications must be taken with folate and B12 to minimize the risk of severe drug toxicities. If your cancer care team recommends these cancer-fighting vitamins during therapy, take them exactly as prescribed to minimize the risk of serious treatment side effects.
- B6: Good food sources include chickpeas, fish, beef, chicken, potatoes, whole grains, cottage cheese, raisins and tofu.
- B12: This vitamin is found in sufficient quantities in animal-based foods such as seafood, fish, beef, milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs. Those who don’t eat meat, fish or dairy products may consider fortified foods and supplements containing B12.
- Biotin: Dietary biotin sources include eggs, fish, meat, seeds, nuts, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli.
- Folate: Excellent folate sources include dark green leafy vegetables, avocado, asparagus, rice, wheat germ and broccoli.
- Niacin: Nuts, beans, grains, poultry, fish and beef all supply niacin in the diet.
- Riboflavin: Riboflavin-rich foods include fortified cereal and grain products, yogurt, mushrooms, milk and clams.
- Pantothenic Acid: Fortified breakfast cereals, shiitake mushrooms, sunflower seeds, chicken, tuna and avocados are the best sources of this B vitamin.
- Thiamin: This B vitamin is found in fortified cereals and grain products, pork, trout, beans and shellfish.
In addition to the important role of B12 and folate during cancer therapy, B vitamins foster healthy cellular communication and regulate the production of genetic material, red blood cells and hormones.
These nutrients are necessary to convert food into energy the body can use to support the metabolism of drugs, steroids and fat.
Vitamin C enhances iron absorption when eaten with iron-containing foods. Pairing complementary foods may be helpful for cancer patients who struggle with iron-deficiency anemia.
Vitamin C is crucial for mesothelioma patients because of its vital role in wound healing and immune function. Vitamin C helps rebuild collagen, supports other antioxidants to protect the body against damage, participates in the regeneration of vitamin E and aids in neurotransmitter production.
- Brussels sprouts
- Green peppers
- Oranges, grapefruits and the juice of these fruits
- Red bell peppers
- Tomato juice
The above food sources provide at least half the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C per serving.
Research on the safety of vitamin C megadoses during cancer treatment have conflicting results. However, most health experts agree that low doses — up to twice the recommended daily allowance — are safe. Read labels to ensure you do not exceed this amount from a combination of dietary supplements, food and beverages.
Studies show that many cancer patients have low vitamin D levels. While doctors aren’t sure if cancer causes low vitamin D, there’s a clear link between cancer risk and vitamin D deficiency.
A 2021 clinical research study compared groups of patients with and without asbestos-related diseases. They found that vitamin D levels were higher in patients without asbestosis, mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases.
Vitamin D regulates the cell life cycle, and is critical for calcium absorption and lifelong bone health. It also regulates neuromuscular activity, hormone function, immunity and inflammation.
- Egg yolks
- Fortified dairy foods
- Fortified orange juice and cereals
Only a few foods contain vitamin D, so you may need a dietary supplement to get enough of it. The body can make vitamin D with sun exposure. However, in many areas of the U.S., the sun is not strong enough in winter to trigger vitamin D production. The ability to make vitamin D also diminishes with age.
The tolerable upper limit (defined as the maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects) is 4,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Never take more than this unless directed by your doctor or dietitian.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble substance that’s been studied extensively for potential cancer-prevention. While getting plenty of vitamin E from food is linked with a reduced risk of some cancers, vitamin E supplements may not offer the same benefits.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Evidence to date is insufficient to support taking vitamin E to prevent cancer. In fact, daily use of large-dose vitamin E supplements (400 IU) may increase the risk of prostate cancer.”
- AlmondsVegetable oils
- Peanut butter and other nut butters
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ
While consumers should be wary of high-dose vitamin E supplements, eating foods naturally rich in this nutrient is safe and healthy.
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant during fat metabolism and regulates cell signaling, gene expression, blood vessel dilation and blood-clotting.
The body can make some Vitamin K, but most people do not make enough of this fat-soluble nutrient to meet their needs.
Some research points to a form of vitamin K (K2) for reducing cancer risk and inflammation.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Natto, a fermented soy product found in Japanese cuisine
- Soy nuts and soy nut butter
If you take blood-thinners, also called anticoagulants, do not take vitamin K supplements or change your intake of vitamin K-rich foods without talking to your doctor first.
A varied diet of lean protein, nuts, vegetables, fruit, beans and whole grains supplies plenty of cancer-fighting vitamins after a mesothelioma diagnosis.
If you are losing weight or unable to eat your usual foods during cancer therapy, ask your doctor or dietitian if you need a vitamin supplement to fill in the gaps.