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Is an antioxidant-rich diet dangerous for cancer patients?

For years I have been preaching that it’s best for cancer patients to avoid antioxidant supplements, especially during chemotherapy.  Since many blood cancer patients–like me–seem to be on perpetual therapy, I suggested eating a diet rich in antioxidants and stopping there.

There is a growing amount of evidence that I’m right.  This article I found on MedicalExpress.com, reports that a pair of renowned cancer researchers, Dr. David Tuveson and Navdeep Chandel, PhD, take it one step farther, suggesting avoiding an antioxidant-rich diet as well.  Read these excerpts from and let’s discuss on the other side:

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

In a brief paper appearing today 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…

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 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 . Impeding antioxidant production in healthy cells will upset the delicate redox balance upon which normal cellular function depends…

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-07-antioxidants-cancers-dont.html

Note the statement,”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.”  “VAST QUANTITIES.”  Its unclear how that’s defined.  But adding extra antioxidant herbs while cooking and eating a serving or two of berries clearly don’t qualify.

Fox news fruits and veggiesWhile the basic premise makes sense, I don’t agree that an antioxidant-rich diet is a bad thing.  Cancer survivors need to keep our bodies strong enough to withstand the poison our doctors pump into us.  Most anticancer compounds identified in labs don’t work in humans, especially if ingested.  Our guts change so much; a very complicated process.

So don’t toss that pint of fresh blueberries just yet!  As a matter of fact, scoop a few in a bowl, add some soy milk and sweeten with a bit of sugar and enjoy!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat

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