Although past studies had shown that antioxidants shield cells against damage and aging processes, a recent mouse study suggest that antioxidants may have some serious side-effects.
A group of researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that the molecules may promote tumor growth in a certain type of cancer.
Antioxidants are either man-made or natural substances that can be found in thousands of foods. People take antioxidants because they protect cells from the damage ‘free radicals’ may inflict as the body grows older. Some of the richest sources of antioxidants are green tea, acai berries, and leafy vegetables.
But according to a recent study, which was published Sept. 14 in the journal Nature, antioxidants have a protective role on cancerous cells as well, thus, promoting cancer spread within the body.
Sean Morrison, lead author of the study, said that his team transplanted cancerous human cells from melanoma patients to laboratory mice. Next, mice were given N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a very popular antioxidant taken as a dietary or fitness supplement. NAC is also used in HIV patients and kids with some genetic diseases to improve their condition.
There was also a control group that wasn’t given the antioxidant. Researchers learned that mice that were given NAC had more cancer cells in their bloodstream and tumors,. Plus, their tumors grew larger than in the control group.
The team concluded that some types of cancer cells may benefit more from the supplements than healthy cells. And they put the blame on a process called oxidative stress.
When cancer reaches its final stage called metastasis and cancer cells spread throughout the entire body, many cancer cells die before they can reach other parts of the body. That’s because of oxidative stress, which is the inability of human organism to fight by itself free radicals that damage cells. But when a melanoma patient takes antioxidants, dying cancer cells due to oxidative stress are revived and cancer becomes viral.
Nevertheless, study authors say that the mechanism may apply to other types of cancer, as well. Three years ago, the Vanderbilt University published a study in Plos One on how antioxidants promote precancerous lesions in prostate cancer in mice.
A year later, the same team published another study on how antioxidants influenced tumor growth in mice with lung cancer. Back then, the Vanderbilt team found that vitamin E and an antioxidant called acetylcysteine nearly tripled the number of tumors in the animals.
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