Over the past few years, consuming food items rich in antioxidants have been regarded as an effective method in preventing the development of diseases.
However, according to a new study conducted by researchers for the Children's Research Institute at UT Southwestern, antioxidants can actually speed up the spread of cancer cells.
For the study, the researchers transplanted melanoma cells taken from cancer patients into mice. The animals were then divided into two groups. The first group received antioxidants while the other one did not receive any form of treatment, according to Newsweek.
However, researchers discovered that using antioxidants can actually accelerate metastasis, also known as the process that takes place when the cancer cells spread from their primary site to other parts of the body.
They noted that the spread of cancer cells in the group that received antioxidants was significantly faster than the one that did not receive the same treatment. They explained that through antioxidants, the cancer cells were able to survive in the blood stream, which does not normally happen.
"Administration of antioxidants to the mice allowed more of the mestastasizing melanoma cells to survive, increasing metastatic disease burden," Dr. Sean Morrison, one of the authors of the study said in a press release.
Conversely, the researchers noted that healthy individuals, or those that do not have cancer, can still benefit from antioxidants since these have been known to reduce the damage caused by highly reactive oxidative molecules.
The researchers recommend treating cancer patients with pro-oxidants instead since oxidative stress can limit the metastasis process.
As noted by Dr. Morrison, this is not the first study to show the effects of antioxidants on cancer patients. Other clinical trials have already shown how this form of treatment can worsen the conditions of some individuals.
"The idea that antioxidants are good for you has been so strong that there have been clinical trials done in which cancer patients were administered antioxidants," he said in a statement. "Some of those trials had to be stopped because the patients getting the antioxidants were dying faster."
"Our data suggest the reason for this: cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells do," he added.
Although the latest study was conducted on mice and not humans, the researchers noted the metastasis process is still predictive since the melanoma cells came from patients.
The findings of the researchers were detailed in a report published on October 14 in the scientific journal Nature.