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Scientists think antioxidants may make cancer cells spread faster (washingtonpost.com)
37 points by olb on Oct 17, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Makes total sense. Free radicals are thought to damage a cell and turn in cancerous. Antioxidants mitigate the number of free radicals so the rate of damage is lower, but once cancer is occurring, antioxidants aren't going to do anything to prevent the spread of cancer. In this experiment, cancer was transferred directly showing that AO actually hinders the bodies ability to fight cancer. Could free radicals actually be part of the immune system?

Another theory, which i think is interesting is that free radicals damage strong as well as weak cells, those weak cells that are killed by free radicals could actually more easily transition into cancer in the absence of free radicals.

It is too easy to explain less free radicals as good. There isn't a single variable in this equation.

> Could free radicals actually be part of the immune system?

Yes, it it already well-known that generation of free radicals is part of a normal immune response[1]. Basically, certain immune cells go into an inflamed area and start generating and releasing as many free radicals as they can in order to cause maximum damage. So if that particular immune mechanism is important in the body's response to cancer, then taking excessive antioxidants could plausibly impair the body's ability to fight cancer.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10807157

Is that what they're saying ?

My understanding of the case against antioxidants is that thefree radicals (etc.) are an essential cell signaling mechanism ... and the signal is "kill me, I'm a bad cell".

If you somehow disrupt or eliminate the signal, you allow bad, or inefficient, or perhaps cancerous cells to live longer than they would otherwise.

I'm paraphrasing directly from the excellent, excellent book _Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life_ by Nick Lane, which is highly skeptical of antioxidant supplementation and is a truly fascinating book.

I wonder if this is why fasting may be healthy: it flushes marginal cells.

Interesting, but do you have any evidence that fasting is healthy?

Thank you, I have looked into it before and will continue to do so. However, the articles you linked were studies done in mice and those undergoing chemotherapy treatment. I am hesitant to extrapolate that up my myself.

Thanks for the reading recommendation--that book looks fantastic.

you just explained why low dose chemo/radiation works

For anyone that's curious, the article is here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/natu...

I'd complain about the WSJ's practice of not properly referencing the study, but I'm afraid that's becoming about as played out as the complaints about paywalls.

The headline points to the Washington Post, not the WSJ. Did someone change it?

No, I think the GP meant WP.

Yep I did, my bad. Sorry about that.

Slightly off-topic, but I wish media would stop using phrases like "scientists think" when reporting on a specific study without a general scientific consensus. "Scientists say global climate change is real" is completely fair though. It doesn't help science to give a false appearance of consensus, and likely leads to a public more willing to dismiss scientific evidence.

If this was a well-researched meta analysis that found a strong consensus, that would be different, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

This may not be the fault of the reporter, as often they don't get final say on the title. It would be marginally better to say "some scientists suggest". The conclusion of the article itself seems to suggest that the evidence is mixed.

Anecdotal supporting evidence: A close family friend with chronic leukemia went on a "pro-oxidative" diet after reading similar previous data. He did see a drop in his counts (which had otherwise been elevated and stable) while not in active chemo.

Every 5 or 10 years there is a big study that gives rise to a health fad: antioxidants, low fat, high fat, low carb, no carb, complex carbs, red wine, ...

These are then almost predictably found to either be bunk or gross oversimplification 5 or 10 years later.

You would think the scientific and medical establishment would realize after a while that there must be something deeply wrong with their whole approach to these studies and their interpretation, but no. The next one is always a breakthrough and around the circle we go. Or are there industries making big bucks on pimping this stuff?

This is not the fault of the scientific and medical establishment. They investigate phenomenon and publish what they can learn. The media does a poor job in explaining the subtleties of what they have learned, and food and supplement companies latch on to these misunderstandings to market "health" products.

Right and people are always looking for a quick fix and "just a pill to take". My understanding is that how nutrition affects the body is a poorly understood complex mechanism and isn't as simple as all fat is bad or all carbs are bad or red meat is poison. Keeping a diversified diet that is rich in real food and very little processed food is a good thing. Exercising is a good thing. Beyond that it seems like micro-optimizations with very little benefit.

Same could be said about software tools and software methodologies. Yes industries are making money by pimping this stuff but at the same time, I think it still counts as progress in that it contributes to our knowledge of how things work and give you more options for dealing with a problem. In both software and health, mature professionals are going to be able to incorporate this new fad into their work in a reasonable and considered way. The general public - not so much.

Well, scientists release studies, which are far from conclusive. Various industries use them to advertise to people who don't understand that studies mean nothing.

Not in this case, this is a context issue, not to mention one that's been known for decades WRT to Vitamin C.

In the context of normal health, anti-oxidants sure seem to be a good thing.

In the context of cancer, well, you don't want healthy cancer cells! The rules change, quite a bit.

The fact that high antioxidant levels could interrupt the ROS-p53 axis and prevent apoptosis (i.e. prevent cancer cells from dying) has been known for awhile.


Edit: forgot to mention one of the relevant studies is from 2005.

It is widely believed that antioxidant supplements interfere with chemotherapy treatments, but it seems to be controversial subject. A relative of mine just started chemotherapy treatments and the doctors recommended avoiding antioxidants.

In particular, we want mice who when presented with a particular existing class of cancer spring to take antioxidants when they serve the mouse and not when it's going to perk up the cancer more, tell related mice how that feels, then survive at a significant rate; then look at their relatives. Sort of a missing hat trick at the end of _Ben_.

Another thing for the http://kill-or-cure.herokuapp.com/ app :-)

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