Antioxidants and Cancer-Too Much of a Good Thing?

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia Commons

Antioxidants are everywhere, in supplements, super foods, teas, and for good reason, they may slow or reduce the ravages of aging. Click here for more. Antioxidants reduce the free radicals produced by normal metabolism that can damage our cells.

But there is growing evidence that antioxidants my benefit cancer cells too. A new study gave mice genetically prone to melanoma levels of antioxidant supplements similar to those taken by humans. While the treated mice did not develop more skin tumors, they did have more tumors in their lymph nodes, implying that antioxidants may change cell chemistry and help cancer cells spread.

Other studies suggest that cancer cells create their own antioxidants and adding more via supplements could allow cancer cells to stockpile them, making the cancer even stronger.

That’s a big deal because some people don’t find out they have cancer right away. My grandma died of breast cancer and was in its advanced stages before she ever found out. Yet overscreening may not be the answer either. The best advice may be for those prone to cancer or already diagnosed to choose not to take extra antioxidant supplements. They haven’t been shown to be definitively harmful to people, but it’s not clear they are helpful either.

Antioxidants May Make Cancer Worse

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