Can Certain Supplements Increase Your Risk Of Cancer?

Many brands market vitamins and supplements as healthy and preventative. And while many supplements can help support a healthy diet and lifestyle, Penn Medicine says some can do more harm than good. Dr. Jeffrey Millstein, a physician at Penn Internal Medicine Woodbury Heights explained to Penn Medicine, "Supplements may interact with other medications you're taking or pose risks if you have certain medical conditions, such as liver disease, or are going to have surgery. Some supplements also haven't been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers or children, and you may need to take extra precautions." But can certain supplements increase your risk of cancer? 

One popular supplement, nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, has previously been linked to heart and brain health as well as metabolic support. But according to News Medical Life Sciences, a new study found NR could increase the risk of developing cancer, specifically breast and brain cancers. Lead study author Elena Goun, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Missouri (MU), cautioned, "While NR is already being widely used in people and is being investigated in so many ongoing clinical trials for additional applications, much of how NR works is a black box — it's not understood."

Popular B3 supplement may increase breast cancer risk

Professor Goun was inspired to conduct the study to better understand how cancer spreads through the body after her 59-year-old father passed away only three months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. In the 2022 study, published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, researchers used bioluminescent imaging technology to examine and compare precise amounts of nicotinamide riboside present in cancer cells, T cells, and healthy tissues. They found that high levels of NR could increase the risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer and could cause the breast cancer to metastasize or spread to the brain (via University of Missouri). Brain cancer is often deadly, as there is currently no viable treatment for it.  

As Professor Goun told University of Missouri, "This novel imaging technique [is] based on ultrasensitive bioluminescent imaging that allows quantification of NR levels in real time in a non-invasive manner. The presence of NR is shown with light, and the brighter the light is, the more NR is present." Goun added, "Our work is especially important given the wide commercial availability and a large number of ongoing human clinical trials where NR is used to mitigate the side effects of cancer therapy in patients."