Cancer Myths Debunked: Antioxidant Supplements Protect You From Cancer

Ask 10 random women on the street today if antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C help protect them against cancer and 9.5 of them will answer: Yes.

It’s not their fault; it has been drilled into them by countless magazines, product ads, and television commercials. Vitamin C, pomegranate, resveratrol, coffeeberry: Eat them! Apply them to your face! Add them to your cereal! Surely soaking up bad free radicals must protect you against cancer, no?

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Well, if you are standing right now, then I suggest you sit. I have bad news. There is little if any good data to show that taking antioxidant supplements protect you against against cancer. In fact, the best data seems to suggest just the opposite — it increases your risk for cancer. Are you sitting now?

A study last year published in the Journal of Nutrition found that women who took a vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc supplement (thats one mega antioxidant pill) developed skin cancer at a rate of 1.3%.

In contrast, the women who were not taking the supplement developed skin cancer at a rate of only 0.7%; this was significantly less.

In particular, the study found that the rate of melanoma was 0.3% in women on the antioxidant pills and 0.08% in women not taking the pills. Again, significantly higher in the women taking antioxidants.

This is not the first study to show an increased risk of cancer in patients taking antioxidant supplements. A large trial of smokers several years ago showed that those taking high does of vitamin A actually had increased risk of lung cancer compared to those not taking vitamin A. A different study showed that patients taking vitamin E had increased mortality as compared to those not taking vitamin E. Another study has shown that taking dietary supplements of antioxidants leads to increased risk of colon cancer. Several aggregated analyses (studies that look at all published studies together) have concluded that beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E all increase the risk of death, while vitamin C seems to have no effect either way.

How can this possibly be?

It is plausible that cancer cells are at increased risk of damage from oxidative stress compared to your normal, healthy cells. In other words, taking antioxidants might ironically be protecting your cancer cells, allowing them to survive more than anything else.

It is likely that because cancer develops from long term damage to your cells, as in the case of skin and lung cancer, that trying to limit damage for a relatively short period of time by taking antioxidants like vitamin E or vitamin A probably has little or no effect. It is analogous to a car that is already rusted when you apply a protective sealant to it. The damage has already been done. Just as the sealant is protecting the already rusted car, the antioxidant is protecting the already cancerous cells.

Here are some recommendations that have stood the test of time and clinical study in preventing cancer:

  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables every day (in contrast to supplements).
  • Limit your intake of simple sugary carbohydrates such as white bread, chips, etc.
  • Exercise every day and keep your weight down.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with broad spectrum sunscreens and protective clothing.
  • If you decide to take a daily supplement, the only vitamin that I recommend taking everyday is vitamin D. There is good evidence that vitamin D supplements can be protective against certain cancers. Taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day is the best way (much better than sun exposure) for elevating your vitamin D levels. More on this in a later post.

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62 thoughts on “Cancer Myths Debunked: Antioxidant Supplements Protect You From Cancer

  1. This is very true. Most vitamins due more harm than good. For instance, taking centrum is horrible. Your body only obsorbs less than 10% percent of the vitamin, and the remaining 90% percent become oxidants. Resulting in more cancer cells. There are many companies out there, like Melaleuca, who claim that if you take their vitamin you’ll obsorb 75%percent of the vitamin.. and that’s still not good. Why? Well there’s 25% left to destroy you. If you have cancer, the only supplements you should be taking are herbal supplements and like discussed in this article, vegetables. The only problem with this article is that you claim that vitamins enhance cancer cells. Well, don’t vegetables have vitamins? I think so! So you are therefore contradicting yourself! The problem isn’t the vitamins enhancing cancer cells, the MAIN problem is taking vitamins from a bottle rather than fresh raw fruits and vegeatables! And please make sure your fruits are organic. e-mail me for more questions.

    johnathanrodriguez@ymail.com

  2. And the take home message is… If you’re looking for a way to increase your antioxidant intake, avoid tablet supplements. Instead, eat more fruit and vegetables and consider a super fruit beverage like Tahitian Noni Juice (http://www.tni.com/australia). There’s a big difference between pill-based antioxidant supplements are good, natural, wholesome food products!

  3. Here, See this review article from NIH.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17367938

    “The objective of this study is to systematically review the literature in order to compile results from randomized trials that evaluate concurrent use of antioxidants with chemotherapy”

    “CONCLUSION: None of the trials reported evidence of significant decreases in efficacy from antioxidant supplementation during chemotherapy. Many of the studies indicated that antioxidant supplementation resulted in either increased survival times, increased tumor responses, or both, as well as fewer toxicities than controls; however, lack of adequate statistical power was a consistent limitation. Large, well-designed studies of antioxidant supplementation concurrent with chemotherapy are warranted.”

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  7. I was just browsing and this article caught my eyes. I’m a final year student in biomedical science and for the rest of the year, I’m doing a research on the antioxidant activity levels of a local honey as a supplement on an animal model. There was a similar topic which is about the effect of antioxidant properties of local honey on adenocarcinoma cell line.

    During my literature review, I did know that antioxidant supplements are more effective at a certain dose which can be acquired by food and not from pills which in excess are more likely to be metabolized by the first pass metabolism which is the same as drugs. And that the free radical scavaging activity may be lowered in response to the intake, such as decrease in GPx and catalase levels in response to an increase in selenium intake.

    So by your statement, is it possible that cancer is not caused by free radicals in the sense that abnormal cellular replication is not caused by oxidative stress?

  8. All These product are useless!
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  9. I have enjoyed your view. My experience has shown your points to be true, then again, I have also read the opposite from different posts like this one. Do you have any suggestions for finding more legitimate info on natural health or related topics? I would certainly appreciate it!

  10. Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine levels is located in skeletal muscle.
    A French scientist is believed to have discovered creatine in 1832.
    And now being used for women and oesteo problems.

  11. A lot of the old standbys have been found to have mixed results when it comes to health and or cancer. But what is the problem? There are hundreds if not thousands of phytonutrients that have been shown in clinical published studies to have a clear and distinct effect upon various human cancers. I know. I’ve done the research, I HAVE cancer. Inflammation seems to have a special effect on cancer and has been identified as one of the fundamental underlying causes. Phytos that reduce or inhibit COX 2 activity also fight cancer. Any time you take an isolated compound from a whole food you run risks with efficacy of that one compound alone. There are several “tocopherols” which have resulted in confusing clinical results. I’ve found almost 400 phytonutrients/nutraceuticals and I am willing to share my knowledge.
    martin

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