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Vitamin E Supplements tied to Lung Cancer Growth

Update Date: Jan 30, 2014 04:03 PM EST

Based from the findings of a new study, taking antioxidants could actually be detrimental for select groups of people. According to the researchers, for smokers and individuals who are at risk of lung cancer, taking antioxidants could end up accelerating lung cancer development. The researchers concluded their findings based from mouse models.

For this study, the Swedish researches used mouse models to examine the effects of Vitamin E and antioxidant supplement, acetylcysteine. The mouse models were infected with early stage lung cancer. When they were given normal dosages of vitamin E and small dosages of the acetylcysteine, the researchers found that the tumor size increased. The tumors were also more aggressive. The researchers found that these mice ended up dying faster than mice with lung cancer that went untreated.

"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 reported by WebMD. "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."

Antioxidants protect the body by stopping cell damage that is caused by molecules called free radicals. The team explained that free radicals can damage anything inside of a cell and once this damage is done to the DNA, it could lead to cancer. In the situation in which the body already has cancerous or precancerous cells, the antioxidants' role can backfire. When there is cellular DNA damage in the body that could cause cancer, the body responds by releasing p53, which is a tumor-suppressing protein.

This rodent study found that the antioxidants were able to prevent p53 from being released by stopping the DNA damage. The antioxidants then end up helping cancer cells hide from the body's natural ability to detect them.

"By reducing the DNA damage, the antioxidant actually helps the cancer cells escape detection," co-author Per Lindahl, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at the University of Gothenburg explained.

The researchers stated that this study was done in rodents and therefore, the findings might not be applicable for humans. However, more research would need to be done to ensure that people at risk of lung cancer or other diseases are not jeopardizing their health by taking these supplements.

"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. 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," Bergo said according to the Washington Post.

The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

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