Additional evidence of the connection between the intake of antioxidant supplements and increased tumor growth has been found. Experiments on animals and human cancer tissue confirm that addition of some antioxidants increases the growth of the severe malignant melanoma type of skin cancer.
The idea that antioxidants protect against cancer because they neutralize so-called free radicals has been challenged in several studies in recent years. It has become apparent that antioxidants protect not only healthy cells in the body, but also cancer cells.
“This is not the way to treat cancer. In the best case, the treatment makes no difference, but it can also exacerbate the disease,”
says Kristell Le Gal Beneroso, who has a Ph.D. in medicine from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
According to previous studies from the current research team in Gothenburg headed by Professor Martin Bergö, the spread of both lung cancer and malignant melanoma accelerates with the addition of certain antioxidants. This takes the form of an increase in the number of metastases or daughter tumors.
In work on her thesis, Kristell Le Gal Beneroso went a step farther and examined how lung cancer and malignant melanoma in mice and human cancer cells respond to the addition of certain compounds of antioxidants. The compounds bind to the cells’ mitochondria, which are the main producers of free radicals.
“The theory behind this was that by binding the mitochondria, the production of free radicals could be reduced, blocking the DNA damage that free radicals cause and that, by extension, can accumulate and lead to cancer. But our results showed that this is not the case, that the compounds did not inhibit cancer. They either had no effect or they made the situation worse. In a model with malignant melanoma, the mice’s tumors grew significantly faster than in the control animals that received no treatment,”
says Le Gal Beneroso.
Accelerated Tumor Growth
According to Le Gal Beneroso, the results of treatment with mitoTEMPO, the compound that triggered tumor growth in some experiments, further reinforce the view that antioxidants can have a harmful effect on cancer.
At the same time, many still have the impression of antioxidants as something positive and that dietary supplements with antioxidants are healthy for the body.
“Hypothetically, you might be helping your healthy cells, but there is no strong evidence that this is the case. On the other hand, we know that once you have cancer, even if it has not been diagnosed, antioxidants can contribute to increased tumor growth,”
The study was supported by grants from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation; the Assar Gabrielsson Foundation; the Göran Gustafsson Foundation, the Swedish Cancer Society, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Children’s Cancer Fund, BioCARE—a National Strategic Research Program at the University of Gothenburg, Västra Götalandsregionen, and Ingabritt and Arne Lundberg’s Research Foundation.
Kristell Le Gal, Mohamed X. Ibrahim, Clotilde Wiel, Volkan I. Sayin, Murali K. Akula, Christin Karlsson, Martin G. Dalin, Levent M. Akyürek, Per Lindahl, Jonas Nilsson, Martin O. Bergo
Antioxidants can increase melanoma metastasis in mice
Science Translational Medicine 07 Oct 2015: Vol. 7, Issue 308, pp. 308re8 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad3740
Image: S. Gschmeissner, K. Hodivala-Dilke & M. Stone, Wellcome Images