Study Finds Antioxidant Supplements May Accelerate Cancer Growth

Two antioxidants, vitamin E and beta carotene may do more harm than good in lung cancer patients, a new study suggests. Researchers showed that, antioxidants accelerated the progression of tumors in mice with early lung cancer.

Published in Science Translational Medicine, the study did not look at whether antioxidants are responsible for initiating cancer. Rather, it examined the acceleration of already existent tumor growth.

Antioxidants reportedly increased lung tumor growth by 2.8 fold in the mice and caused them to die twice as quick, according to the study. When vitamin E and beta carotene were added to human lung cancer cells, researchers also recorded increased cancer growth.

“Taking extra antioxidants might be harmful and could speed up the growth of (any) tumors,” said biologist and study co-author Martin Bergo in a Reuters article. “If I had a patient with lung cancer, I would not recommend they take an antioxidant.”

Among patients with early lung cancer, antioxidants decrease DNA cell damage to a point where it is undetectable by the cell. The undetected damage means the cell does not release its cancer-defense system, a protein called p53.

Without antioxidants, p53 is able to detect DNA damage and kill the cell before it becomes malignant. When antioxidants allow DNA damage to go unnoticed by the cell and p53 is not released, however, malignancies are able to thrive and grow. In essence, antioxidants allow the cancer to escape the cell’s natural defense system.

Findings from the study add to a growing trend of research that questions the effectiveness of vitamin supplements in cases other than malnutrition.

Researchers note that while the study findings are intriguing, they should not prompt a sudden change in behavior among consumers. Natural antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables are safe and patients should not be confused and cut down on these important foods needed for good nutrition especially during treatment when maintaining a nutritional balance is vital.

It is important that individuals talk to their doctors about the use of antioxidants if they have questions or concerns.

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