Although people take antioxidant supplements to stay healthy and young for a longer time, a recent mouse study shows that antioxidants may fuel spread of skin cancer, and especially its deadliest form, called melanoma.
The study revealed that regardless of the health benefits they may bring, antioxidant supplements can promote the spread of malignant melanoma to other areas of the body. Researchers found that this unexpected effect of supplements make the disease even deadlier.
Past studies conducted on lab animals also found a link between antioxidant supplementation and cancer spread, but none of them concluded that antioxidants may fuel spread of skin cancer.
For instance a 1994 research showed that ‘megadoses’ of beta-carotenes taken on a daily basis had a negative effect on lung cancer patients. The supplements boosted risk of lung cancer in smokers by 18 percent.
Additionally, a 1996 study found a link between high doses of retinol and beta-carotene and a high risk of lung cancer in smokers and people working in environments with a high asbestos exposure.
A 2011 study also found that high doses of vitamin E boosted prostate cancer risk by up to 17 percent. These findings, including the latest conclusion that antioxidants may fuel spread of skin cancer are puzzling because antioxidants’ foal is to stave off cancer by neutralizing cell-damaging free radicals in the body.
But researchers now believe that in large doses antioxidants may work against the body and protect cancer cells against free radicals.
“There now exists a sizable quantity of data suggesting that antioxidants can help cancer cells much like they help normal cells,”
noted Zachary Schafer of the University of Notre Dame, who is not an author of the latest study.
In their research, the melanoma study researchers used antioxidant N-acetylcysteine on laboratory mice after they learned that melanoma cells are sensitive to free radicals. The mice were designed to be more prone to melanoma in their adulthood.
Although the mice on antioxidant supplementation did not develop more tumor than their peers, the y did reach metastasis earlier. A clue that they reached the final stage of cancer is the tumors that appeared in their lymph nodes.
Researchers also poured the antioxidant or retinol on human melanoma cells and noticed that the antioxidants helped cancer cells to move faster and penetrate easier other cells’ membranes.
Scientists also found that glutathione, a naturally produced antioxidant in our body, was more present in cancer cell after antioxidant supplementation. This suggests that cancer cells can store antioxidants and survive the damage brought by free radicals.
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