Antioxidants: Should Those with Cancer Take Them?

Background: Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that can harm cells. They are created when an atom or a molecule either gains or loses an electron (a small negatively charged particle found in atoms). You body normally forms free radicals, and they play an important role in many normal cell processes. However, free radicals can be hazardous to the body, and can damage all major components of cells (including DNA, proteins, and cell membranes). Such damage can play a role in the development of cancer and other health problems.

Antioxidants are chemicals that interact with and neutralize free radicals. Your body can make its own (endogenous) antioxidants, or you may get them from outside (exogenous) sources. Fruits, vegetables, and grains can be rich sources of dietary antioxidants. Some examples of dietary supplements are beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E. The mineral element selenium is often thought to be a dietary antioxidant; more correctly, the antioxidant effects of selenium are most likely due to the antioxidant activity of proteins that have this element.

Should People With Cancer Take Antioxidant Supplements? Several randomized controlled  trials have investigated whether taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment alters effectiveness or reduces the toxicities of specific therapy. Although the data is mixed, some studies suggest that patients who took antioxidants during cancer therapy had worse outcomes, especially if they were smokers.

My Take: Until we have additional large, randomized controlled trials, use antioxidant supplements with caution. And let your healthcare team no what you are considering taking. In our next blog, I’ll turn to antioxidant use among those without cancer. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

References: Oncology Nurse Advisor 14 July 2014; National Cancer Institute (USA)

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