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Researchers Reveal How Antioxidants Can Accelerate Cancers

Update Date: Jul 11, 2014 08:26 AM EDT
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Researchers have published a new paper describing why antioxidants supplements might not be working to reduce cancer development and why they may actually do more harm than good. 

Researchers propose that taking antioxidant pills or eating vast quantities of foods rich in antioxidants may be failing to show a beneficial effect against cancer. The reason is that they do not act at the critical site in cells where tumor-promoting ROS are produced. Instead supplements and dietary antioxidants tend to accumulate at scattered distant sites in the cell, "leaving tumor-promoting ROS relatively unperturbed," the researchers said in the press release. 

Paper's insights are based on a recent advances in understanding of the system in out cells that establishes a natural balance between oxidizing and anti-oxidizing compounds. 

Quantities of both ROS and natural antioxidants are higher in cancer cells - the paradoxically higher levels of antioxidants being a natural defense by cancer cells to keep their higher levels of oxidants in check, so growth can continue. In fact, researchers say, therapies that raise the levels of oxidants in cells may be beneficial, whereas those that act as antioxidants may further stimulate the cancer cells. Interestingly, radiation therapy kills cancer cells by dramatically raising levels of oxidants. The same is true of chemotherapeutic drugs - they kill tumor cells via oxidation, the press release added. 

Researchers concluded by proposing a new research to profile antioxidant pathways in tumor and adjacent normal cells, to identify possible therapeutic targets. 

The study "The Promise and Perils of Antioxidants for Cancer Patients" is published in The New England Journal of Medicine. 

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