This Niacin Supplement Could Spike Your Cancer Risk, New Study Finds
It's been linked with both breast and brain cancer.
Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in America, just behind heart disease. According to the American Cancer Society, 1.9 million new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer deaths were expected to occur in the U.S. in 2022. That means a staggering 1,670 people were anticipated to die from cancer every day this year.
Given these facts, it's easy to understand why many Americans buy supplements to boost their health and reduce their risk of disease. In fact, 58 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and older take a dietary supplement daily.
However, while many supplements are beneficial, some can do more harm than good. A new study from the University of Missouri (MU) found that taking one supplement in particular may send your cancer risk soaring and jeopardize your long-term health. Read on to learn more.
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Good nutrition is more important than supplements, experts say.
Instead of relying on supplements to boost your health and help prevent cancer, experts say it's better to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes an array of whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. After all, the purpose of supplements is as the name suggests—to supplement an already healthy diet.
Supplements aren't meant to be your primary source of nutrients. "For most people, consumption of the right food and drink is more likely to protect against cancer than dietary supplements," states the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). For example, research shows that high-dose beta-carotene supplements increase lung cancer risk in some people.
No substantial evidence indicates that supplements reduce cancer risk, apart from taking calcium for colorectal cancer prevention.
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Taking this supplement may elevate breast and brain cancer risk.
In the study, an international team of researchers examined how the popular dietary supplement nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3 (niacin), functions in the body. While many people take NR for its supposed anti-aging benefits—and previous studies have found NR has benefits related to cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological health—the researchers discovered a serious side effect of taking NR. It can increase the risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer (a more aggressive form of the disease) and potentially cause the cancer to metastasize (spread) to the brain. Once the cancer reaches the brain, death is likely, since no viable treatment options currently exist.
"Some people take them [vitamins and supplements] because they automatically assume that vitamins and supplements only have positive health benefits, but very little is known about how they actually work," said Elena Goun, PhD, a study co-author and an associate professor of chemistry at MU, in a statement. "Because of this lack of knowledge, we were inspired to study the basic questions surrounding how vitamins and supplements work in the body."
Researchers made the discovery via this novel technology.
To arrive at these findings, the researchers used bioluminescent imaging technology—a powerful technology that allows scientists to study biological processes in real time non-invasively.
"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," stated Goun. "So that inspired us to come up with this novel imaging technique 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."
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Know a supplement's potential side effects before taking it.
These findings reinforce how crucial it is for not only scientists and researchers to diligently investigate the potential side effects of supplements like NR, but also for consumers to do their own research before purchasing supplements. This is particularly critical for supplements like NR where previous studies have linked it to several health benefits, including anticancer properties.
"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," said Goun.
Before taking any new supplement, consult your healthcare provider to determine what's best for you, and to learn about potential side effects.