Antioxidants may pose threat to cancer treatment, Nobel Prize scientist

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 16th January 2013

Antioxidants have been a mainstay for food marketers promoting the health aspects of foods for the past 5 years. Yet a new study by Dr. James Watson, published in the latest issue of Open Biology on 8 January 2013, suggests that the presence of antioxidants is potentially harmful for some and may be responsible for resistance to cancer therapies.

Dr. Watson, was one of the Nobel Prize winning team responsible for the original discovery of the structure of DNA and considers his latest work as being “among my most important work since the double helix.”

The health benefits of antioxidants have previously been explained by their role in protecting against free radicals such as reactive oxygen species(ROS). Free radicals may harm healthy cells and damage DNA and are produced from the breakdown of foods or by environmental exposures.  Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, such as berries and broccoli.

However, Dr. Watson’s latest study demonstrates that high antioxidant levels are detrimental to those who are living with cancer.  He writes “blueberries best be eaten because they taste good, not because their consumption will lead to less cancer.” Antioxidant nutritional supplements, such as beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, and E, and selenium, could be in fact be harmful and damaging in the context of a cancerous body.

His theory on antioxidants is based on the fact that the majority of anticancer treatments aim to generate ROS, which triggers cancer cell death. The high levels of antioxidants in cancer cells therefore allow them to block the actions of anticancer therapies, surviving and potentially moving to other body locations.

Dr Watson’s study has implications not only for the management and treatment of cancer. It may also be a turn-off for food consumers and food marketers pushing an antioxidant message.