Antioxidants and Cancer: Study Links Compounds to Lung Malignancy

Friday, 31 Jan 2014 10:28 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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Though antioxidants have been billed as crucial to a person's health, a new study suggests that the chemical compounds can actually accelerate malignant growths in certain cancer patients.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, Swedish researchers revealed that instead of preventing oxidation in the body — a process that damages cells — antioxidants can actually have a negative effect in a person with lung cancer.

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Antioxidants are compounds like vitamins A, C, and E that are commonly found in fruits and vegetables. According to, they work to prevent harmful effects in the body caused by the buildup up "free radicals," or damaged cells.

But the scientists who gave Vitamin E supplements and a drug called acetylcysteine to a group of mice with lung cancer found that, in that case, the antioxidants actually sped up the growth of tumors, the Washington Post reported.

"We found that antioxidants caused a threefold increase in the number of tumors, and caused tumors to become more aggressive," senior author Dr. Martin Bergo said during a Tuesday news conference. "Antioxidants caused the mice to die twice as fast, and the effect was dose-dependent. If we gave a small dose, tumors grew a little. If we gave a high dose, tumors grew a lot."

The study results reportedly correlated with a 1994 National Cancer Institute analysis of smokers who took antioxidant supplements. In that study, those that took the additives had an increase in incidence of lung cancer, according to the Post.

The researchers in Sweden are now trying to determine whether antioxidants have an effect on other types of cancer.

"We need to understand if this is limited to lung cancer . . . or if the antioxidants can accelerate the growth of other tumors such as malignant melanoma, leukemia, G.I. tumors," Bergo said. "We don’t know anything about this. It is possible that antioxidants will increase the growth of some of the cancers, and it is possible that it will prevent others."

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