Ask the Nutritionist
Q: I am currently taking Femara for an occurrence of breast cancer from 11 years ago. What supplements can I take to increase my immune system and build my bones?
Theresa Dangelo, Grand Island, New York
A: Supplements can be beneficial but they are often over-used. Additionally, medications and supplements can interact with one another, so you should always consult your health care professional before adding a supplement to your diet.
In terms of overall health, the best way to get a balance of vitamins and minerals in your diet and build immunity and bone strength is through your food. Incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables daily. Balance those with whole grains and lean protein-rich foods to ensure your body is fueled with proper nutrition.
In addition to a balanced diet, a multi-vitamin can be taken but may or may not offer additional benefit. Be sure to choose one that includes only about 100 percent or less of the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI).
Regarding bone strength, a calcium and/or vitamin D supplement may be helpful. Preliminary research suggests that preventing vitamin D deficiency may be important for cancer prevention and survivorship as well as for bone health. Additionally, Femara is a medication that blocks the production of estrogen, and estrogen deficiency has been associated with bone loss.
It is often difficult to get enough vitamin D from the diet. Therefore, up to 800–1,000 IU of vitamin D supplementation per day is usually safe and may help prevent deficiency and provide an important nutrient for bone health. But the best way to find out how much vitamin D you should take is to ask your doctor for a blood test. Be sure to consider the amount of vitamin D in your multi before adding additional supplementation.
Regarding calcium, it is best absorbed in dosages of 500-600 mg and under. We recommend avoiding any supplements with doses larger than that. You should aim to be getting around 1,200 mg of calcium throughout your day from food and supplements. Consider what is in your multi-vitamin and what is in your food before adding an additional supplement.
Examples of calcium-rich foods:
- 1 cup non-fat milk: 300 mg
- 1 cup low-fat, plain yogurt: 300 mg
- 1.5 ounces shredded cheese: 306 mg
- 1 cup raw broccoli: 90 mg
The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, making both important for bone health. Resistance exercise is also important for promoting bone strength and physical activity plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system.
To read more about dietary supplements and breast cancer, see other related health questions:
Dietary supplements and breast cancer
Estrogen-sensitive tumors and nutrition