Antioxidants have long been hyped as cancer-fighting compounds. However, a new study on mice says that antioxidants actually hasten cancer spread and researchers recommend using pro-oxidants instead.

Since the 1990s, antioxidants have become the center of attention when it comes to their tantamount contribution in the study of biochemistry. In fact, they were deemed effective as anti-aging compounds, anti-cancer weapons and they were also credited to promoting heart health. While these are good for the bodies of healthy people, it was discovered that antioxidants may accelerate cancer growth and spread.

Oxidative stress is a normal phenomenon that happens in the body. It happens when there is an imbalance in the amount of antioxidants and pro-oxidants. Pro-oxidants promote oxidative stress generating reactive oxygen species or by preventing the effects of the antioxidant system.

In a provocative study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers from the Children's Research Institute at University of Texas Southwestern found out that instead of slowing down the growth rate of tumor cells, antioxidants even hastened their spread or metastasis to other organs of the body. This raises concern on the use of antioxidant supplements among cancer patients.

"We discovered that metastasizing melanoma cells experience very high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to the death of most metastasizing cells," Dr. Sean Morrison, CRI Director at the Southwestern Medical Center said in a press release. He added that antioxidants helped metastasize cells to survive and this can pose detrimental effects on cancer disease spread. 

Dr. Sean Morrison and his co-researchers conducted experiments on mice that had been transplanted with skin cancer or melanoma cells. Antioxidants were given to the treatment group while nothing was given to the control group.

The results are alarming. The group that received antioxidants exhibited increased tumor cell growth rate.The researchers recommend the use of pro-oxidants because metastasis is limited by oxidative stress.

"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," added Dr. Morrison.

However, most of those clinical trials were stopped because they discovered that cancer patients receiving antioxidants were dying faster.

Although healthy people may benefit from antioxidants' protective qualities against the damaging effects of oxidative stress, the use of these compounds on cancer patients should be reconsidered.

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