Cancer Loves Antioxidants

Picture: ECEMAML (PD)

Supplement addicts beware. It may be old news that Vitamin A elevates a smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer, but until now the general wisdom was that antioxidants are generally a good cancer preventative (except maybe Vitamin E). James Watson, Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA, has news that will make you put down the vitamin bottle and rethink your approach to what you put in your body.


Celebrated geneticist James Watson, one of several researchers who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, has just published what can only be called a cancer manifesto in Open Biology. It’s full of fairly harsh criticisms for current cancer researchers, but also suggests several ways forward in the “war on cancer.” Among other claims, Watson asserts that antioxidants like vitamin C — often recommended as cancer-prevention supplements — could be causing some forms of cancer. He also has harsh words for personalized medicine, and the laziness of cancer researchers.

He goes on to say that conventional thinking about cancer is all wrong. Antioxidants may be undermining cancer therapies and even causing cancer:

In light of the recent data strongly hinting that much of late-stage cancer’s untreatability may arise from its possession of too many antioxidants, the time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use much more likely causes than prevents cancer.

All in all, the by now vast number of nutritional intervention trials using the antioxidants β-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium have shown no obvious effectiveness in preventing gastrointestinal cancer nor in lengthening mortality. In fact, they seem to slightly shorten the lives of those who take them. Future data may, in fact, show that antioxidant use, particularly that of vitamin E, leads to a small number of cancers that would not have come into existence but for antioxidant supplementation. Blueberries best be eaten because they taste good, not because their consumption will lead to less cancer.

It is thought that antioxidants can prevent damage to DNA from oxygen radicals. But, argues Watson, we want oxygen radicals in cancer cells because this can cause the cells to die. Taking antioxidants might be preventing cancer drugs from destroying cancer cells.

Western medicine’s reductionist, seemingly schizophrenic approach to health and disease not only confuses health conscious people, but leads many of us towards behaviors which are later proven to be downright harmful. Rather than overthinking and  worrying  ourselves sick trying to find the latest magic pill, isn’t balance, moderation, and sticking to a simple, mostly plant based diet the best path to good health?

24 Comments on "Cancer Loves Antioxidants"

  1. mannyfurious | Jan 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm |

    So are eggs good for us or not? The world may never know….

    I agree with Amber’s closing paragraph. Just try to be well-balanced and practical about your health. If you lean too far towards one theory or idea, too often that comes back to bite people in the ass.

  2. $23802000 | Jan 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

    THC is the cure

  3. JoiquimCouteau | Jan 18, 2013 at 2:39 pm |


    -Apoptosis is usually induced by oxidative stress

    -Antioxidants can sometimes inhibit apoptosis, by decreasing oxidatie stress

    -Apoptosis can kill cancer cells

    -Antioxidants interfere with the action of many (indiscriminate) cancer drugs

    The one study he cites that actually mentions clinical data on human cancers and antioxidants was published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), which automatically invalidates it.

    The guy’s spent most of his life studying genes and drugs, he’s just blaming antioxidants for the failure of medical, ‘evidence based’ cancer treatment. In the words of a younger James Watson, “the war on cancer is a bunch of shit”.

    • There was quite a bit more to it than just blaming antioxidants. Lots of detailed information.

      But of course you can summarize the excerpt in the article and figure you got the whole point.

      • JoiquimCouteau | Jan 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm |

        I did read the paper, albeit briefly, and my summary is a fair representation of what he wrote regarding antioxidants.

  4. mole_face | Jan 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm |

    I was under the impression that the reason why antioxidants aren’t supposed to be taken in conjunction with chemo is because they protect the cancer cells from being destroyed by the cancer treatment. But isn’t that actually just evidence of the antioxidants’ efficacy at protecting cells from damage, which was the reason why they’re considered to be useful in preventing cancer in the first place? Sure, antioxidants will indiscriminately protect all cells from being damaged by chemo, including the cancer cells – but I’d assume that in your day to day life, this property would also be helpful in preventing healthy cells from ever becoming cancerous via exposure to radiation, carcinogens, etc.

    • mole_face | Jan 19, 2013 at 2:28 pm |

      I never just outright dismiss anything that happens to clash with my own ideology, but this piece really does seem to be employing deliberately manipulative reasoning. Their argument only has validity if you accept this line of reasoning: antioxidants are anti-chemo, and chemo is anti-cancer, therefore antioxidants are pro-cancer. If this jumps out as a glaring logical fallacy to some random slob like me, I wonder how it could’ve eluded such a prestigious Nobel Prize winning scientist.

  5. localhandy | Jan 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm |

    My brother won his battle against bowel cancer by smoking copious amounts of marijuana and mixing Guinness with Vodka and drinking himself to sleep. All this whilst going through chemo therapy and carrying a colostomy bag. He’s an incredible specimen of a fellow and worth writing a book about

  6. BuzzCoastin | Jan 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm |

    having spent about 20 years in the cancer biz
    & knowing hundreds of cancer docs
    one thing I’m absolutely certain of
    they haven’t a clue about curing cancer
    but they know a lot about making money from cancer patients

    • hmmm……you are probably lying…..interesting that you claimed to work in the cancer biz and yet never say anyone cured (in remission)

      • Name one thing about the medico-pharmaceutical industry that’s bad. Go on, I dare you.

        However, I applaud your bravery and courage in calling someone you’ve never met and probably never will meet a liar.

        [/sarc, in case you couldn’t tell]

        • Be my guest. By all means, the next time you get a strep infection, smoke a pound of weed. If you break your arm, manage the pain with accupuncture. And if god forbid you get cancer, avoid doctors at all costs.

          • Catharsiopa Stern | Feb 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm |

            That’s exactly what I would at least the part that if I get cancer avoid doctors at all costs, I’ve done so with every illness after seeing how chemotherapy killed a family member by malnutrition, it wasn’t the cancer which was the size of a pea in his liver. It was only after he was skin and bone and having gone through hell with the high amount of opiates etc, that he finally had the chance to let go from all that suffering.

            We tried to get medical cannabis but we found a doctor only nearby about a month or 2 before he passed. It was too late. Europe still needs to change their policy on those matters.

            Modern Mainstream Science has become so deceptive it is hard to separate the facts from the fiction. Educate yourself and find your own way to be healthy, once you listen to your body and cut out unhealthy foods, you will realize that once your body is not used to the junk it will react instantly when you decide to indulge in some known poison. Know Nutella? Ever since I cut out most processed foods, I need one spoon of Nutella and my stomach becomes an acid reflux monster of hell. While before I could eat tons and tons without noticing how bad it actually is, just cause my body wasn’t responding anymore naturally, it accepted it as food, since it had to accept it.

      • BuzzCoastin | Jan 19, 2013 at 8:39 am |

        remission is not a cure
        it’s a remission, look up the definition
        there is no cure for cancer
        only treatment of the symptoms
        and modern remission rates are similar
        to the remission rates from doing nothing

        the primary feature of a troll
        is a lack of anything substantial
        to back up their boorish provocations

  7. Chingy Ching Chong | Jan 19, 2013 at 5:47 am |

    Eat food, mostly plants, not too much and read the China study.

  8. yes, marijuana can save the world LOL

  9. The idea that anti-oxidants inhibit cancer treatments is not that new. A close friend of mine had life threatening Non-Hodgkins Lymphona in 1996, and her oncologist told her to avoid Vitamin C and other anti-oxidants for exactly the reasons that are stated here.

  10. alpha-Lipoic acid induces apoptosis in human colon cancer cells by increasing mitochondrial respiration with a concomitant O2-*-generation.

    Wenzel U, Nickel A, Daniel H.


    Molecular Nutrition Unit, Department of Food and Nutrition, Technical University of Munich, Hochfeldweg 2, D-85350, Freising, FRG.


    The antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) has been shown to affect a variety of biological processes associated with oxidative stress including cancer. We determined in HT-29 human colon cancer cells whether ALA is able to affect apoptosis, as an important parameter disregulated in tumour development. Exposure of cells to ALA or its reduced form dihydrolipoic acid (DHLA) for 24 h dose dependently increased caspase-3-like activity and was associated with DNA-fragmentation. DHLA but not ALA was able to scavenge cytosolic O2-* in HT-29 cells whereas both compounds increased O2-*-generation inside mitochondria. Increased mitochondrial O2-*-production was preceded by an increased influx of lactate or pyruvate into mitochondria and resulted in the down-regulation of the anti-apoptotic protein bcl-X(L). Mitochondrial O2-*-generation and apoptosis induced by ALA and DHLA could be prevented by the O2-*-scavenger benzoquinone. Moreover, when the lactate/pyruvate transporter was inhibited by 5-nitro-2-(3-phenylpropylamino) benzoate, ALA- and DHLA-induced mitochondrial ROS-production and apoptosis were blocked. In contrast to HT-29 cells, no apoptosis was observed in non-transformed human colonocytes in response to ALA or DHLA addition. In conclusion, our study provides evidence that ALA and DHLA can effectively induce apoptosis in human colon cancer cells by a prooxidant mechanism that is initiated by an increased uptake of oxidizable substrates into mitochondria.

    PMID: 15843897 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  11. Is this the same James Watson who is a crypto-eugenicist? The one working hard for private interests to get the ball rolling on Human GMO’s?

    Oh it is? The very same? Okay.

    And he’s publishing with The Royal Society too, is he? Okay.

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