An alarming study has shown that antioxidants speed up cancer growth, instead of being beneficial in combating the disease. The research, published on October 14 in the journal Nature, was conducted by experts at the University of Texas.
The purpose was to test the effects of antioxidants on human cancerous test. In an animal trial, laboratory mice received transplants with human melanoma (skin cancer) cells. Afterwards, some of the rats were treated with antioxidants, while the others were given a placebo.
The antioxidant used in the experiment was N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which is frequently included in dietary supplements, and is also administered to children with genetic disorders or to HIV/AIDS patients.
It was determined that, among those which had received the antioxidants, cancer spread much faster, malignant cells in the bloodstream were much more numerous, and the tumors were larger and more widespread.
This process which causes cancer cells to multiply and form other life-threatening growths in different parts of the body is known as metastasis. It appears that metastasizing melanoma cells have elevated levels of oxidative stress, and in response to it the majority of them actually die.
Therefore, the possibility of tumors spreading to other locations is usually limited, given that cancer cells seldom survive in the bloodstream. However, if antioxidants are administered, cancerous cells are protected from this stress and actually thrive, which makes metastasis much more likely and rapid.
The study contradicts the ubiquitous opinion that antioxidants are one of the healthiest types of compounds in the world, and that they should be prescribed indiscriminately to every individual.
Products rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy veggies, green tea, beans and pecan nuts, have long been hailed as superfoods that should be part of the ideal diet.
Also, the 3 major antioxidant vitamins (vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene) have also been considered essential in guarding cells against “free radicals” that could potentially damage them and disrupt DNA.
In fact, based on this belief, in former trials, cancer patients were actually treated with antioxidants, until they began dying at such heightened rates that the experiment had to be discarded.
Now it appears this recent research explains why that happened. As study authors have shown, the act of administering oxidants to people who have malignant tumors actually helps cancer cells to become more prevalent, instead of benefiting normal cells, and combating the disease.
Prior research had also suggested this theory. For example, an animal study conducted by Vanderbilt University in 2012 showed that prostate cancer cells became more prevalent after antioxidant use, and another paper from 2014 proved that rodents with lung cancer died twice as fast after being given vitamin E and acetylcysteine.
As a result, based on these findings, it becomes clear that antioxidants are much safer to be consumed by healthy people. For individuals who suffer from cancer, it would be advisable to include pro-oxidants as part of the treatment instead, according to researchers.
Oxidative stress is the process through which metastasis can actually be limited or halted entirely. Therefore, it would be preferable to try and accelerate the destruction of cancer cells using chemicals that inhibit anti-oxidation.
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