Since the term "antioxidants" made the leap from the realm of biochemistry labs and into the public consciousness in the 1990s, Americans have come to believe that more is better when it comes to consuming the substance that comes in things like acai berries, green tea and leafy veggies.
A provocative new study published Wednesday in the journal Nature raises important questions about that assumption.
Antioxidants — which include vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, and are contained in thousands of foods — are thought to protect cells from damage by acting as defenders against something called "free radicals" which the body produces as a part of metabolism or that can enter through the environment.
That's all great for normal cells. But what researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found is that antioxidants can work their magic on cancerous cells, too — turbo-charging the process by which they grow and spread.
Researcher Sean Morrison and his colleagues conducted experiments on mice that had been transplanted with skin cancer cells (melanoma) from human patients. They gave nothing to one group. To the other they gave doses of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) which is a common antioxidant that's used in nutritional and bodybuilding supplements and has been used as a treatment for patients with HIV/AIDS and in some children with certain genetic disorders.
The results were alarming: Those in the second group had markedly higher levels of cancer cells in their blood, grew more tumors and the tumors were larger and more widespread than in the second.
"What we're starting to learn is that there can be bad cells from cancer that appear to benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells," he said in an interview.
Here we go again. Everything that we were told was good for us turns out to be for us. Antioxidants: ANOTHER good thing turns out to be bad for us!
C'mon, you stupid scientists, something is either good for us, bad for us, or neither good nor bad. Make up your minds, stop doing a 180 on everything we consume, get it right the first time!