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Guidelines for the Safe Use of Dietary Supplements*

Your Gundersen Lutheran cancer care team urges you to eat traditional healthy foods instead of experimenting with products promoted in consumer publications or on the Internet. There is no scientific evidence that dietary supplements or herbal remedies can cure cancer or stop it from coming back. Talk to your doctor, nurse, registered dietitian or pharmacist before taking any vitamin or mineral supplement. Too much of these “good things” can be just as dangerous as too little. Large doses may even interfere with the effectiveness of your treatments.

Investigate before you buy or use. There are many resources in libraries and on the Internet. However, promoters produce much of this information, and it contains biased or incorrect information. Rely on materials by a trained expert or government agency.

Check with your physician before you try a dietary supplement. He or she may or may not be thoroughly versed in all of the product areas, but hopefully your physician will prevent you from making a dangerous mistake.

Do not take any self-prescribed remedy instead of the medicine prescribed by your physician without discussing it first.

Introduce one product at a time. Be alert to any negative effects you experience while taking the product. Any product that produces a rash or a feeling of sleeplessness, restlessness, anxiety, GI disturbance (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation) or severe headache should immediately be stopped and the reaction should be reported to your physician.

Avoid any dietary supplements not prescribed by a licensed physician during pregnancy or if you are breast-feeding. Few, if any, of these products have been studied for safety, and their effects on the growing fetus are largely unknown.

Do not depend on any nonprescription product to cure cancer or any other serious disease. Regardless of the claims you might hear, if it "sounds too good to be true," it probably is.

Never give a product to a baby or child under 18 without consulting your physician first. Their bodies metabolize nutrients and drugs differently from an adult’s body, and the effects of many products in children are not known.

Always follow the dosage recommendations on the label. Over dosage could be deadly. Do not take a dietary supplement any longer than experts recommend.

Try to avoid mixture. The more ingredients, the greater the possibility for harmful effects.

*From the American Cancer Society guide to complementary and alternative cancer methods. ©2000

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