Antioxidants may Increase the Risk of Lung Cancer Progression

Antioxidants are known to improve the health and slow down the aging process. However, a new study has shown contradicting results. Although previous findings suggest that antioxidants may help prevent and delay cancer progression, the researchers of Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found out that it can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer progression. The finding of the study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


To increase the antioxidant levels in the body, many people take multivitamins and nutritional supplements. The antioxidants work by neutralizing the free radicals in the body which are harmful to the cells.

While antioxidants may reduce the risk for cell damage, it can also affect other cell components like cell membranes, DNA and cell protein. Hence, high dosage of antioxidants can promote cancer development and counteract its main purpose.

“Antioxidants turn off the p53 protein which may lead to faster tumor growth”

While previous researches have claimed that it antioxidants can prevent and fight certain types of free radicals that are associated with cancer growth, the new study says otherwise. For the study the researchers used two groups of mice with lung cancer.

lung cancer

The first group were given extra antioxidants through acetylcysteine and vitamin E which are two of the mostly used antioxidants. The levels received by the mice were similar to the dosage present in the multivitamins for humans.

The second group on the other hand, were not given extra antioxidants. The results of the test shows that the mice who received additional Antioxidants developed more tumors three times faster and had a lifespan that has been significantly shorten compared with the mice who did not receive extra antioxidants. Moreover, the mice who took antioxidants developed bigger tumors than the 2nd group of mice.

The team also performed an experiment on the human lung cancer cells. Prof. Bergo, one of the researchers explained, “When the antioxidants attack reactive oxygen radicals in the tumors, a protein called p53 is deactivated. [This protein] has a neutralizing effect on tumors, and when it’s gone the tumors can grow faster and more aggressively.”

“Antioxidants may speed up the process of cancer growth on people with chronic lung disease”

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD are given acetylcysteine a form of anti-oxidant to melt away thick mucus. Prof. Bergo stated that the findings may be relevant on people with COPD.

He stated, “Many COPD patients have been smokers and therefore have a higher risk of lung cancer. It is too early to give recommendations regarding the use of acetylcysteine in COPD patients, but our study clearly points to a need for new research on this topic,”

Even so, the co-author of the study, Prof. Per Lindahl says that people should not stop taking the two forms of antioxidants just yet. He added, “For people who already have a small lung tumor but don’t know it, there is a risk that antioxidants may speed up the progression to cancer.

Consequently, people in obvious risk groups, such as smokers, may consider not taking extra antioxidants, but we still have no scientific support for such a general recommendation.

The teams mentioned that further research needs to take place in order to learn more about the effect of antioxidants on other types of cancer cells.

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