Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How antioxidants can accelerate cancers, and why they don't protect against them

Date:
July 10, 2014
Source:
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Summary:
Two cancer researchers have proposed why antioxidant supplements might not be working to reduce cancer development, and why they may actually do more harm than good. Their insights are based on recent advances in the understanding of the system in our cells that establishes a natural balance between oxidizing and anti-oxidizing compounds. These compounds are involved in so-called redox (reduction and oxidation) reactions essential to cellular chemistry.

Drs. Tuveson and Chandel explain why eating foods rich in antioxidants, as well as taking antioxidant supplements, can actually promote cancer, rather than fight or prevent it, as conventional wisdom suggests.
Credit: CSHL

For decades, health-conscious people around the globe have taken antioxidant supplements and eaten foods rich in antioxidants, figuring this was one of the paths to good health and a long life.

Related Articles


Yet clinical trials of antioxidant supplements have repeatedly dashed the hopes of consumers who take them hoping to reduce their cancer risk. Virtually all such trials have failed to show any protective effect against cancer. In fact, in several trials antioxidant supplementation has been linked with increased rates of certain cancers. In one trial, smokers taking extra beta carotene had higher, not lower, rates of lung cancer.

In a brief paper appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine, David Tuveson, M.D. Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor and Director of Research for the Lustgarten Foundation, and Navdeep S. Chandel, Ph.D., of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, propose why antioxidant supplements might not be working to reduce cancer development, and why they may actually do more harm than good.

Their insights are based on recent advances in the understanding of the system in our cells that establishes a natural balance between oxidizing and anti-oxidizing compounds. These compounds are involved in so-called redox (reduction and oxidation) reactions essential to cellular chemistry.

Oxidants like hydrogen peroxide are essential in small quantities and are manufactured within cells. There is no dispute that oxidants are toxic in large amounts, and cells naturally generate their own anti-oxidants to neutralize them. It has seemed logical to many, therefore, to boost intake of antioxidants to counter the effects of hydrogen peroxide and other similarly toxic "reactive oxygen species," or ROS, as they are called by scientists. All the more because it is known that cancer cells generate higher levels of ROS to help feed their abnormal growth.

Drs. Tuveson and Chandel propose that taking antioxidant pills or eating vast quantities of foods rich in antioxidants may be failing to show a beneficial effect against cancer because they do not act at the critical site in cells where tumor-promoting ROS are produced -- at cellular energy factories called mitochondria. Rather, supplements and dietary antioxidants tend to accumulate at scattered distant sites in the cell, "leaving tumor-promoting ROS relatively unperturbed," the researchers say.

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, say Tuveson and Chandel, 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.

Paradoxically, then, the authors suggest that "genetic or pharmacologic inhibition of antioxidant proteins" -- a concept tested successfully in rodent models of lung and pancreatic cancers -- may be a useful therapeutic approach in humans. The key challenge, they say, is to identify antioxidant proteins and pathways in cells that are used only by cancer cells and not by healthy cells. Impeding antioxidant production in healthy cells will upset the delicate redox balance upon which normal cellular function depends.

The authors propose new research to profile antioxidant pathways in tumor and adjacent normal cells, to identify possible therapeutic targets.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The original article was written by Peter Tarr. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Elizabeth G. Phimister, Navdeep S. Chandel, David A. Tuveson. The Promise and Perils of Antioxidants for Cancer Patients. New England Journal of Medicine, 2014; 371 (2): 177 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMcibr1405701

Cite This Page:

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "How antioxidants can accelerate cancers, and why they don't protect against them." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710094434.htm>.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. (2014, July 10). How antioxidants can accelerate cancers, and why they don't protect against them. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710094434.htm
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "How antioxidants can accelerate cancers, and why they don't protect against them." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140710094434.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Solitair Device Aims to Takes Guesswork out of Sun Safety

Solitair Device Aims to Takes Guesswork out of Sun Safety

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 31, 2015) — The Solitair device aims to take the confusion out of how much sunlight we should expose our skin to. Small enough to be worn as a tie or hair clip, it monitors the user&apos;s sun exposure by taking into account their skin pigment, location and schedule. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Soda, Salt and Sugar: The Next Generation of Taxes

Soda, Salt and Sugar: The Next Generation of Taxes

Washington Post (Mar. 30, 2015) — Denisa Livingston, a health advocate for the Dinι Community Advocacy Alliance, and the Post&apos;s Abby Phillip discuss efforts around the country to make unhealthy food choices hurt your wallet as much as your waistline. Video provided by Washington Post
Powered by NewsLook.com
UnitedHealth Buys Catamaran

UnitedHealth Buys Catamaran

Reuters - Business Video Online (Mar. 30, 2015) — The $12.8 billion merger will combine the U.S.&apos; third and fourth largest pharmacy benefit managers. Analysts say smaller PBMs could also merge. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

AFP (Mar. 28, 2015) — Sierra Leone imposed a three-day nationwide lockdown Friday for the second time in six months in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus. Duration: 01:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins