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?