Antioxidants: Are They Bad For Me?

Antioxidants Are They Bad For Me

A recent study on mice aimed at unlocking the effects of anti-oxidants on diseases like cancer, revealed some most unexpected and alarming facts about the common anti-oxidant we use, like Vitamin E. [1]

As per Martin Bergo, a molecular biologist heading this research, Vitamin E may increase the risk of Lung cancer, let alone reduce or avoid it. Moreover, the findings suggest that, the mice who were given a dose 5-50 times higher than normal, suffered a three times greater risk of developing lung cancer. Noteworthy is that, these mice died twice as quickly as the untreated mice.

Okay, so the study was on mice, how does it relate to humans?

To say the least, human dietary supplements too contain 4-20 times the amount recommended for daily intake. Plus, being fat soluble, whatever amount of vitamin E we consume, stays in our body and is not eliminated through urine like Vit B or C. Now, do the math!

Not to scare you away, this is an established fact that anti-oxidants are good for our body and cells. So, consuming them within recommended levels is very okay. But, what is the recommended level? 22.4 EU. Your physician or nutrition expert will help you find the exact amount of antioxidants you consume as diet (and not the supplement).

My advice: Avoid anti-oxidant supplements.

Take a sigh of relief as you read this: A mention-worthy fact here is that the mice used in this study, were genetically engineered to suffer from lung cancer. This brings us to another warning for those with family history of cancer or people prone to suffer from it due to lifestyle and habits, like smoking. The scientists are worried about such people, as according to them, these people might be carrying small tumors inside while appearing healthy on outside. Woah!

Also, people suffering from Obstructive Pulmonary disease need to be careful, as they are treated with high doses of NAC (N-acetylcysteine), which is another anti-oxidant examined in this study.

Why anti-oxidants fuel growth of cancer?

The basic biology lesson here on what antioxidants do: They promote new cell growth. Cancer, as we know is a monster form of inflammation, i.e., uncontrolled growth of cells. You get the picture, right?!! Antioxidants boost growth of all kinds of cells, including cancerous or cancer prone, turning them malignant.

This means, if I’m healthy, a non-smoker and possess a genetic make-up devoid of any familial oncogenes, I’m safe to consume anti-oxidants without the fear of any harm? Well, NO!

Other detrimental effects of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are good for heart and brain health, as they reduce chances of oxidative stress on these two most vital organs of our body. [2] But, as we know any food item consumed in excess of recommended levels is harmful for the system. And antioxidants are no exception. So, here is what all can happen to you if you gulp in Vitamin E capsules without prescription.

  • Deficiency of Iron and Zinc: Not only will their absorption from gut would be hampered, the amount of these micro nutrients already present in body will be reduced too. That means, development of problems like anemia and malfunctioning of organs.
  • Studies also show role of Vit E in promoting adipose tissue growth. Translated as increased chances of obesity.

So, how do I go about this? Our body does need Antioxidants!!

True! And for that, try having water-soluble anti-oxidants like Vitamin C. Reason being, if ever consumed in excess, they can easily be eliminated out of the body. And thus, no long term ill-effects.

Suggested Readings

1. Oxidative stress in diseases

2. Vitamin C and its effects on human body system

3. How Folic Acid promotes Breast cancer


[1] V. I. Sayin, M. X. Ibrahim, E. Larsson, J. A. Nilsson, P. Lindahl, M. O. Bergo, Antioxidants Accelerate Lung Cancer Progression in Mice. Sci. Transl. Med. 6, 221ra15 (2014) DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007653

[2] F.J. Kokm et. al. Antioxidants in adipose tissue and risk of myocardial infarction: the EURAMIC study. doi.10.1016/0140-6736(93)92751-E


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