Cancer Nutrition Info, LLC (CNI) received a thoughtful question on an important topic from one of our readers. The reader asked "Could I have avoided my cancer if I had taken the right dietary supplements? I was told that if I had taken a supplement called Ambrotose®, which contains substances called glyconutrients, I would not have gotten cancer. Is this true?"
The concepts around dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and herbs sometimes are presented in ways that are misleading and anxiety-producing for individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer. This happens for many different reasons. We feel that helping people to understand the science behind the connection between nutrition and cancer, as well as how dietary supplements are marketed to certain groups of people, are the best ways to relieve this anxiety. Our goal is to provide information that people can use to make wise nutrition choices. In this article, we discuss this topic and provide ideas to consider when deciding whether a dietary supplement may be right for you.
Note: Numbers appearing at the end of sentences indicate research references. References are listed at the end of each article.
"Could I have avoided my cancer if I had taken the right dietary supplements? I was told by someone who promotes and sells these products that if I had taken a supplement called Ambrotose®, which contains substances called glyconutrients, I would not have gotten cancer. Is this true?"
Thank you for your thoughtful question. First, we should clarify that at Cancer Nutrition Info, LLC (CNI), we are not anti-supplement. We firmly believe in the benefits of many types of dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and herbs for addressing a variety of health concerns. We have an entire section of our website, called Complementary & Alternative Medicine, dedicated to this topic. However, we do not believe that the MannatechTM products, including Ambrotose®, fall into the category of useful dietary supplements.
We have been reading and following the information and products being marketed by MannatechTM with interest. After reviewing the information on these products, our professional opinion is that they have not been proven to have the health benefits that they claim. As well, hearing the statement from the promoter of these products that you would not have gotten cancer if you had been taking these products raises concerns for us at CNI.
Despite the information published by the company, we have yet to see any outcomes research on the benefits of these products. In other words, we have not found research telling us that taking these particular dietary supplements reduces risk of disease, including cancer. Despite this, we have noted that representatives of this company will claim that their products have been proven to reduce disease risk.
MannatechTM bases many of their health claims on the concept that their products contain 'essential carbohydrates' or 'essential sugars' for the body. MannatechTM refers to these 'essential sugars' as glyconutrients. Nutrition has been around as a scientific area of research for over a century. In that time, researchers have uncovered many essential nutrients. This includes vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids (essential types of protein that the body cannot make and must obtain from the diet) and essential fatty acids (essential types of fat that the body cannot make and must obtain from the diet), to name a few (1-5). Essential nutrients are those that the body cannot make. They must be obtained from the diet. If essential nutrients are not obtained from food in the diet, then a person will develop a deficiency of those nutrients.
Never, in any scientific study, has it been discovered that there are 'essential carbohydrates' that we cannot get from a normal, healthy diet. In other words, the claims made regarding these dietary supplements have not been proven to be true and do not fit with known scientific facts.
Marketing of Dietary Supplements To People With Cancer
At CNI, we also have concern when a company relies heavily on testimonials, which as you may know, are not a reliable way to gather information about the possible benefits of a dietary supplement or nutrient. In other words, simply because a person states that the products worked for them does not give us enough information to know if they will work for anyone else. Testimonials can be a good place to start when deciding to conduct research on a particular dietary supplement or nutrient. However, without further study, they do not tell us much.
As well, at CNI, we find the use of "scare tactics" to convince vulnerable people to use particular dietary supplements troubling. In other words, when someone experiences a serious threat to their health, such as a diagnosis of cancer, they may examine factors that they can use to begin healing and promote wellness. This places them in the position of being vulnerable to the "too good to be true" claims being made by promoters of unproven complementary and alternative medicine approaches, including dietary supplements.
Many individuals with cancer naturally look to things like nutrition as a way to promote healing and wellness. As well, they want to reduce their risk of getting cancer again. This is a normal and very useful response to a health threat. But unfortunately, promoters of dietary supplements can use the stress and vulnerability experienced by people with serious diseases to sell their products.
The promoter's statement that you would not have gotten breast cancer if you had been using their products suggests that MannatechTM is using this approach for product promotion and sales.
In addition to this, the promoter's statement implies that it is YOUR fault for getting breast cancer. In other words, this person is telling you that if only you had done the right things, which includes taking their dietary supplement products, you would not have gotten cancer. This idea is not supported by available research.
We do know that diet and nutrition play very important roles in the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes for many people (6-15). However, typically we cannot know, for any ONE particular person, if anything that they did or did not do in their lives has anything to do with why they got their disease. This is especially true for cancer.
Please note that we are not saying that people should ignore the connection between diet, nutrition and cancer.
We do know that in general, people who do all of the "right things", such as eat well, avoid tobacco, and exercise, are much less likely to get cancer. For these reasons, it makes sense to embrace all of the things we can do to keep ourselves healthy.
And when you look at the 'statistics' of disease, we know that for most people, doing these things WILL reduce cancer risk. Also, more and more research is telling us that even after a diagnosis of cancer, healthy nutrition is an important part of staying well (16-24).
At CNI, we advise people to:
We promote this approach because we know it can lower risk of cancer and many other diseases.
However, nobody's risk of cancer is zero, no matter how well they take care of themselves. And for a promoter of a dietary supplement to imply that simply taking a specific dietary supplement would have "protected you from cancer" is unfair and misleading.
We believe in the power of diet and healthy living for reducing cancer risk. Indeed, research tells us over and over that these things DO reduce risk of cancer. They even appear to reduce risk of getting cancer again after a diagnosis. That is what is so exciting about nutrition. What you do can make a difference!
It is one of the reasons we feel so passionate about educating people on the connection between nutrition and cancer. However, a company that tells you that they have the one correct answer for beating cancer is not being honest.
We will summarize a few of the other issues that are important to consider when deciding if a dietary supplement is right for you.
For example, if a dietary supplement manufacturer states, "...some research suggests that our product may be useful for people with cancer," this is a much more honest statement than saying, "...our supplements prevent cancer." Again, keep in mind that marketing claims are normal. Your goal is to try to sort out the reasonable claims from those that are clearly biased by the commercial interest of the company.
Of course, all marketers want to sell their products. This is normal and it is to be expected. It is not necessary to disregard all information provided by organizations promoting dietary supplements. Some of this information may be very good. However, you should be aware of the motivations of the seller when you consider a particular product.
Informed consumers know that marketing is a normal part of selling a product. However, using only the marketing claims of a manufacturer means that you will miss out on important information regarding both the benefits and the downsides of using that particular product.
This is one of the main reasons why we created our website. We want to EMPOWER people with information that is unbiased by advertising. We do not sell any products, special diets, or have any sponsorship or connection with any commercial interest. We simply provide honest information about the connection between nutrition & cancer to people who need it most. We do charge a small subscription fee, specifically because we do not accept marketing or advertising from any third parties.
Many people want to try dietary supplement products, even knowing that they may not be supported by research. Again, because of the seriousness of a disease like cancer, this is normal. It is natural for people to try many approaches to help themselves get and stay well.
On this note, we do not believe that the MannatechTM products are harmful to health.
Even though we do not believe that these products are helpful, we do not believe that they will cause physical harm to an individual. As well, we do not believe that they are likely to interact or interfere with most other medications.
At Cancer Nutrition Info, LLC, we are big believers in "Never say never". In other words, even if a specific nutrition approach is not proven, this does not mean that it won't eventually have research to tell us that it is effective. So, even though we would not use or recommend MannatechTM products, we believe that if an individual truly feels that he or she is obtaining benefit from them, then that person should go with what feels right to them.
Please keep in mind that if you use any type of complementary and alternative medicine or dietary supplements, it is very important to share this information with all of your health care providers.
Thank you for your thoughtful question. We hope our answer is helpful to you. We hope that we have given you information that you can use to make an informed choice about whether you want to try MannatechTM or any other dietary supplement products that you may be considering. We feel that helping people to understand the science behind the many connections between what we eat and cancer is the best way to help them make wise nutrition choices. It is our sincere hope that by providing information, we can help people make these choices after a diagnosis of cancer!
NOTE: If you are in cancer treatment, these diet changes may not be right for you. Please discuss your nutrition needs with your health care team. Also, please see our section on Treatment Symptom Management to help with nutrition issues during cancer treatment.
For information on select dietary supplements that may be of benefit for individuals with cancer, please see our section on Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
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