Can vitamin and mineral supplements prevent cancer?

There is no evidence that taking vitamin or mineral supplements can stop you getting cancer.

However, there is evidence that taking some supplements can do more harm than good. For example, taking beta-carotene supplements can increase your risk of lung cancer if you are a smoker.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. Most people can get all the nutrients they need from eating a healthy balanced diet.

Supplements are recommended for some people, such as all children aged six months to five years and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, most people don’t need to take supplements. For more information, see Do I need vitamin supplements?

A 2012 review of the results of clinical trials on taking antioxidant vitamin supplements found that:

  • taking supplements did not increase people’s life expectancy
  • taking vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin E may increase people’s risk of death

If you do take supplements, be aware that taking too much or taking them for too long could have harmful effects. See the Health A-Z topic on vitamins and minerals for more information.

Diet and cancer

The link between diet and cancer is complex. However, there is evidence that eating a healthy balanced diet, with at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables, can help reduce the risk of diseases including some types of cancer.

Eating healthily and exercising regularly will also help you maintain a healthy weight, which itself can reduce your cancer risk.

On the other hand, eating a lot of red and processed meat may put you at increased risk of bowel cancer. Read more about red meat and bowel cancer.

Some foods, such as broccoli and blueberries, have been labelled as 'superfoods' that can reportedly reduce your risk of cancer. However, the evidence for this is inconclusive. For more information, see Do foods like blueberries, broccoli and beetroot prevent cancer?

Read the answers to more questions about cancer.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 07/06/2013

Next review due: 06/06/2015