Antioxidants supplements might conflict with cancer treatment

All the cells of your body maintain their function and health through a series of chemical reactions. Sometimes these reactions produce an unwelcome byproduct called “free radicals”. These are unstable molecules that can damage cells. Free radicals probably contribute to causing many cases of cancer, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration of the eyes.

Even many parts of the aging process are due to free radicals slowly damaging the DNA within our cells. Our body produces its own natural “antioxidants” to diminish the damage brought by the harmful free radicals, but we can also boost the antioxidants within our body by eating antioxidant-rich foods (such as red wine, tea, berries, and many more) or by taking antioxidants in the form of vitamins, minerals, and various supplements.

Some of the most popular antioxidants are Vitamins C and E, as well as carotene, lycopene, lutein, and selenium. Knowing that cancer and many degenerative diseases may be caused or at least exacerbated by free radicals, many research studies have been done to see if taking antioxidants would decrease the risk of developing these diseases.

Unfortunately, most of the studies have shown that taking antioxidants in pill form does not seem to decrease the risk of these diseases. Most experts feel the best way to prevent disease is to obtain your antioxidants from eating foods that are especially high in antioxidants.

Still, many people (including many doctors) take antioxidant supplements hoping that they will help prevent cancer or other bad diseases, and many people who develop cancer take antioxidants thinking they will help them survive the disease and the treatments.

Over the past decade, however, there has been questions about whether it is good to take antioxidants during cancer chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The concern is that taking antioxidants in pill or supplement form could actually work against the chemotherapy or radiation treatments, making the treatments LESS effective.

The 84 year-old Nobel prize-winning scientist, Dr. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, ignited this controversy in the January 2013 Open Biology. Dr. Watson writes that “the time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use much more likely causes than prevents cancer…”.

The National Cancer Institute (USA) notes that herbs, vitamins, and supplements might actually diminish the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation therapy for two reasons. First, certain herbs (even large amounts of garlic) can affect how chemotherapy drugs are absorbed and metabolized (removed) from the body.

If a certain supplement you are taking decreases the amount of the chemotherapy in your system, you might not be cured when you otherwise might have. If the supplement acts to increase the amount of chemotherapy in your organism, you are more prone to chemotherapy side effects.

Second, chemotherapy and radiation therapy sometime kill cancer cells by increasing the amount of “free radicals”—as free radicals are harmful to normal cells, but they also kill the cancer cells. So if you are taking antioxidants that counter free radical formation, the cancer cells might not being killed by the treatment as they should be.

This subject of antioxidants interfering with cancer therapy is still controversial. Still, it would be wise for anyone undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment to first talk to their oncologist or radiation therapist before taking any supplements. You don’t want to do more harm than good!

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