The Latest Study About Antioxidants Is Terrifying, Scientists Think They May Boost Cancer Cells To Spread Faster


Since the term “antioxidants” made the leap from the realm of biochemistry labs and into the public consciousness in the  1990s, Americans have come to believe that more is better when it comes to consuming the substance that comes in things like acai berries, green tea and leafy veggies.

A provocative new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature raises important questions about that assumption.

Antioxidants — which include vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, and are contained in thousands of foods — are thought to protect cells from damage by acting as defenders against something called “free radicals” which the body produces as a part of metabolism or that can enter through the environment.

That’s all great for normal cells. But what researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found is that antioxidants can work their magic on cancerous cells, too — turbo-charging the process by which they grow and spread.

Researcher Sean Morrison and his colleagues conducted experiments on mice that had been transplanted with skin cancer cells (melanoma) from human patients. They gave nothing to one group. To the other they gave doses of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) which is a common antioxidant that’s used in nutritional and bodybuilding supplements and has been used as a treatment for patients with HIV/AIDS and in some children with certain genetic disorders.

The results were alarming: Those in the second group had markedly higher levels of cancer cells in their blood, grew more tumors and the tumors were larger and more widespread than in the second.

“What we’re starting to learn is that there can be bad cells from cancer that appear to benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells,” he said in an interview.

Morrison, director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, explained that it has to do with something called oxidative stress.

Scientists have known for a while now that cancer metastasis — especially when it involves spreading a great distance to another part of the body — is a very inefficient process and that many cells die along the way. This is likely due to oxidative stress, which is an inability by the body to counteract the harmful effect of free radicals. When antioxidants supplements are given, the paper hypothesizes, they may give new life to those cancerous cells that are on the edge of dying.

Morrison said that previous studies have shown that the progression of metastasis of human melanoma cells in mice is predictive of their metastasis in humans, which raises concerns about the use of dietary antioxidants by patients with cancer.

Moreover, melanoma may not be the only type of cancer to be affected this way.

A similar study conducted at Vanderbilt University and published in PLoS One in 2012 involving mice with prostate cancer also showed that antioxidants appeared to increase the proliferation of cells in the pre-cancerous lesions. And another one in rodents with lung cancer published in Science Translational Medicine in 2014 found that normal doses of vitamin E and smaller doses of acetylcysteine, an antioxidant supplement, appeared to lead to a three-fold increase in the number of tumors and caused them to be more aggressive. As a result, the mice given antioxidants died twice as fast the ones in the control group. The reaction appeared be dose dependent with larger doses leading to a more severe reaction.

Morrison said that further study needs to be done to confirm the findings and that cancer patients should still consume antioxidants as part of a healthy diet.

But, he added, “personally, from the results we’ve seen, I would avoid supplementing my diet with large amounts of antioxidants if I had cancer.”

Over the past 20 years, numerous studies were launched to ascertain the effect of antioxidants on other conditions ranging from heart disease to memory loss. Early results have mostly been mixed, but that hasn’t stopped food companies from hyping their disease-fighting abilities.




  1. My first question would be who sponsored the research? Big Pharma? They control most of the research, especially in universities thru “donations”.
    Every time I read about “research” being done on nutritional supplements, I have doubts. Big Pharma is always trying to destroy nutrition as an answer to our health, the more reports on how scary and bad it is the more I realize the progress we make in educating people that ” let food be thy medicine & medicine be thy food”.
    Remember , supplements ( unless artificially produced) come from food, so does that mean food is bad for us? Most treatments given patients put no emphasis on nutrition, so if anything we need more nutrition.

  2. Antioxidants do not work alone. They need to recycle each other. Just like the infamous beta carotene study that supposedly showed beta carotene increased the risk of lung cancer. Synthetic beta carotene was used plus used alone. N-acetylcysteine is also a massive mast cell degranulator, causing mast cells to degranulate to put out massive amounts of histamine and other pro-inflammatory compounds, with no other antioxidants around to help the NAC. So many alternative programs have halted and even reversed cancers in humans with diets high in antioxidants plus antioxidant and other supplements. Like the other commenter noted, who sponsored the research? Not buying it!

  3. Here!Here! Big Pharma is usually behind anti health propaganda and studies. More studies need to be done to find out who sponsored this study.

  4. I smell BS. NAC has over 40 years of hundreds of scientific validated studies confirming the myriad of health benefits of this modified amino acid. And yep these dudes receive “Corporate Donations” at their foundation headquarters. Just follow the money.

  5. Couldn’t they have given the mice blueberries? Probably over-dosed them with synthetic antioxidants.

  6. But Dr Linus Pauling found Vitamin C helps fight cancer.

    Also high doses of intravenous Vitamin C have been shown to extend lifespan in some cancer patients using that even just as a stand alone therapy, by up to 25 times, extending a prognosis of a six month survival time to one of 12.5 years with certain types of cancers. One can also mix Vitamin C into a liposomal form to avoid having to inject it, so it can be taken orally with just about the same potency, allowing large amounts to be kept in the body.


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