Mineral cancer, minerals and cancer


Epidemiological studies suggest that the risk of cancer is reduced in areas where the soil is high in selenium. Blood samples taken from large groups of people also show that they are more likely to develop cancer if they have low blood levels of selenium and the antioxidant selenium-containing enzyme, glutathione peroxidase. Low serum, dietary and soil selenium levels are particularly associated with lung, gastrointestinal tract and prostate cancers. Selenium may be most effective when combined with vitamin E.

Mineral cancerColorectal cancer

In a 1997 study of the relationship between selenium and colon cancer, researchers at the University of North Carolina determined selenium levels in patients referred for colonoscopy. The results showed that those with the lowest selenium levels had almost four times the risk of colon cancer when compared to those with the highest levels.

In a German study published in 1998, researchers investigated the selenium and glutathione peroxidase levels in 106 colorectal cancer patients and compared these to those in people without cancer. When average selenium levels in the cancer patients were compared with those in the control group, no significant differences were found. However, a significant reduction of serum glutathione peroxidase activity was seen in cancer patients. Those patients with low selenium levels had lower survival times and rates than the patients with higher selenium levels. The lowest selenium level was found for patients with advanced tumor disease. It is unclear from the results of this study whether low selenium levels are cause or effect of cancer.

Lung cancer

In a study published in 1993, Dutch researchers examined the links between long- term selenium status and lung cancer among 120,852 Dutch men and women aged 55-69 years. The results showed that the lung cancer risk in those with the highest intake of selenium was half that of those in the lowest intake group. The protective effect of selenium was concentrated in subjects with a relatively low dietary intake of beta carotene or vitamin C.


High intakes of calcium-containing foods are linked to a lower risk of developing colon cancer, although the latest research suggests that the protective effect is not very marked. Calcium may exert its protective effects by binding to cancer- causing fats and bile acids in the intestine and normalizing the growth of cells in the intestinal wall. Calcium may also normalize the growth of cells in the intestinal wall, thus protecting against cancerous changes. Low calcium intake may also increase the risk of breast and cervical cancers.

Results from the Health Professionals Study, involving almost 48,000 men aged from 40 to 75 also suggest that a higher intake of calcium from foods and supplements slightly reduces the risk of colon cancer. Data from the Nurses Health Study which involved over 89,000 nurses also showed a small reduced risk.Results from the Iowa Women's Health Study published in 1998 suggest that calcium can decrease the risk of rectal cancer. Researchers analyzed information from 34,702 postmenopausal women who responded to a mailed survey in 1986. After nine years of follow-up, 144 rectal cancer cases were identified. The results showed that high total calcium intake reduced the risk of rectal cancer. Other results from this study show a reduced risk of colon cancer in women with high intakes of calcium and vitamin D.


Copper may act to prevent cancer. Animal studies have shown that copper has a protective role and this may be due to its antioxidant properties as part of copper-zinc superoxide dismutase.


Some evidence suggests that water fluoridation may be linked to some types of cancer, although this is controversial. A study published in 1996 reported on the relationship between fluoride concentration in drinking water and deaths from uterine cancer in Okinawa, Japan. Fluoride was added to the water supplies in the region in the period from 1945 to 1972. The results showed significant links between the time of water fluoridation and deaths from uterine cancer.


Hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency are associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer.

Mineral cancerIron

In some population studies, high iron levels have been associated with an increased risk of throat and gastrointestinal cancers while others have not shown links. Results from a study assessing the links between body iron stores and cancer in 3287 men and 5269 women participating in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found an increased risk with high iron levels. Some experts believe that the findings of increased risk are due to causes such as defects in iron metabolism, rather than diet alone. Some studies have shown that iron can inhibit tumor development while others have shown that it might enhance it. Iron may increase the risk of cancer through its effect on free radical formation.


A form of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, contains manganese. Proper function of this enzyme helps protect against free radical damage which can cause cancer.


Population studies show that people living in areas where the soil is molybdenum- deficient have been found to have an increased risk of stomach and esophageal cancers. This may be because molybdenum-deficient plants are unable to metabolize carcinogenic compounds known as nitrosamines, which are present in high levels in food.


Zinc supplements have been used to improve taste perception in people taking medications which reduce taste sensation, and in cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. This can be valuable in helping to maintain normal weight and nutrient intake during treatment.


Some evidence suggests that vanadium may limit the initiation and frequency of tumors in animals. Its role in humans is unclear.

Other nutrients

Essential fatty acids

The levels and types of fat in the diet seem to influence cancer risk, and disease progression. High intakes of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids seem to increase the risk of cancers while high intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may

provide protection. Animal studies have demonstrated that polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids stimulate carcinogenesis and tumor growth and metastasis, whereas long-chain omega-3 fatty acids inhibit these processes. Reducing total fat intake and increasing the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet may be particularly useful for groups at a relatively high risk for breast or prostate cancer, and may also be useful after surgery to help prevent disease recurrence.

Dietary intake of essential fatty acids may play a role in prostate cancer cell proliferation. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that men whose dietary intake is high in omega-6 fatty acids have a higher incidence of clinical prostate cancer. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids may have protective effects. Other research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids inhibit breast cancer and that the degree of this inhibition depends on background levels of omega-6 fatty acids. Results from the European Community Multicenter Study on Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Cancer (EURAMIC) study published in 1998, suggest that an increase in the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to total omega-6 fatty acids in fat tissue decreases the risk of breast cancer. In this study, total levels of omega-3 or omega-6 fat were not consistently associated with breast cancer. Population and laboratory studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may help to prevent and inhibit colon cancer. In a study published in 1995, death rates for colorectal cancer in 24 European countries were correlated with current tish and fish oil consumption, and with consumption ten and 23 years previously.

In men, there was a reduced risk of death from colorectal cancer and current intake of fish, a weaker link with fish consumption ten years earlier, and none with consumption 23 years earlier. The researchers concluded that fish consumption is associated with protection against the later stages of colorectal cancer, but not with the early initiation stages.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in preventing as treating cancer as they seem to exert tumor-suppressive effects. In a study published in 1997, Norwegian researchers studied the relationship between incidence of lung cancer and intake of dietary fats, high fat foods, fish, and fish products in 25,956 men and 25,496 women aged from 16 to 56. During the follow-up period, 153 cases of lung cancer were identified. The results showed that those who took cod liver oil supplements had around half the risk of those who did not.

Essential fatty acids may also boost immune function which may help in cancer prevention and treatment. Studies on the immune T cells in cancer patients taking fish oil capsules suggest that omega-3 fatty acids bring about beneficial changes. In a Greek study published in 1998, researchers investigated the effect of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E on the immune status and survival in both well-nourished and malnourished cancer patients. The study involved 60 patients with solid tumors who were randomized to receive dietary supplementation with either fish oil (18 g of omega-3 fatty acids) or placebo daily. The authors measured various indicators of immune function. The results showed that omega-3 fatty acids had a significant immune- enhancing effect and seemed to prolong the survival of malnourished patients.

Gamma-linolenic acid

Gamma-linolenic acid has been shown to be effective in killing cancer cells and is well-established as a topical treatment for some types of cancer, includingbladder cancer. It has also been shown to kill various other types of cancer cells.

There are many other compounds under investigation for their anticancer potential, including soybeans, tea and garlic. Bioflavonoids, colored pigments from fruit and vegetables, may also have anticancer properties. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage also contain anticancer compounds.

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