Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Research Article

Risk management of nutritional supplements in chronic illness: the implications for the care of cancer and depression

Ursula Wernekea1 c1

a1 Department of Psychiatry, Vrinnevi Hospital, 60182 Norrköping, Sweden

Abstract

The use of complementary medicines in patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer and depression is widely documented. Current studies suggest that the prevalence of the use of complementary medicines in patients with cancer ranges from 7% to 80%. In patients suffering from severe depression the use of complementary medicines may be >40%. The aim of the present review is to systematically explore the main dimensions that clinicians have to consider when advising patients suffering from these conditions. The Medline and Cochrane databases were searched for evidence relating to the benefits and risks of supplements in the treatment of cancer and depression, including the potential interactions with pharmaco- and radiotherapy. Supplements predominantly used by patients with cancer include vitamins A, C and E, β-carotene and ubiquinone 10. Supplements predominantly used by patients with depression include S-adenosylmethionine, l-tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan and inositol. Supplements potentially used by both groups include n-3 fatty acids, Se and folic acid. Four dimensions are identified and discussed: effectiveness; safety; communication; medico-legal aspects. These dimensions have to be addressed in an illness- and case-specific context. This task can be complex given the emerging clinical evidence, patients' own preferences and expectations and current prescribing guidelines.

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: Dr Ursula Werneke, fax +46 11 223926, email uwerneke@easynet.co.uk