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Antioxidants May Lead to Cancer Spread - Newsweek Headline

Newsweek Articlel Screen Shot
Is it true? Fresh fruit can cause cancer?

Every once in awhile an article comes out, that gets things so wrong, I feel it's a moral obligation to respond. Newsweek released just such an article on October 17, 2015. Here's what Newsweek published, and why it's so bad.

The headline screamed, "Antioxidants May Lead to Cancer Spread, Study Says."

The picture beneath the headline was of acai berries. The caption below the picture said, "Baskets of acai berries that will be sold to the food processing industry..."

Right away, if you're reading that article, you're thinking that antioxidants from food sources such as the acai berries pictured, were the culprits behind the cancer spread. But the news was about to get worse. The first paragraph of the story went on to say:

"Antioxidants such as blueberries and green tea have long been viewed as beneficial for health, and perhaps even to bear preventative implications for cancer. But a new study published this week in Nature might refute that belief: Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Center have found that antioxidants may in fact accelerate cancer's spreading and growth in mice."

If you read no further, it would seem like researchers had been giving antioxidant rich foods like blueberries and green tea to mice, and seen an acceleration of cancer growth. That was followed by a quote from one of the researchers that seemed to confirm it. Here's what that researcher said:

"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," Dr. Sean Morrison, CRI Director and Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said in a press release. "Some of those trials had to be stopped because the patients getting the antioxidants were dying faster. Our data suggest the reason for this: cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells do."

At this point, it would seem as if these researchers had given antioxidant rich foods to patients with cancer and that the cancer got worse. But if you believed that, you'd be COMPLETELY WRONG.

What ACTUALLY happened is that researchers took "human skin cancer cells, or melanoma" and transplanted them in mice. Some of the cells had been treated with N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant SUPPLEMENT sometimes used in nutritional supplements. The cells treated with the antioxidant SUPPLEMENT saw the "cancerous tumors spread more quickly..."

Let that sink in. The researchers did NOT conduct tests with acai berries, pictured at the top of the article. The researchers did NOT conduct tests with blueberries or green tea mentioned in the first sentence. What researchers did was take a manufactured supplement and tested to see if it would have anti-cancer properties.

Here's a short video Daniel Reynen (President of WeBeFit) created that demonstrates the effect.

They could have saved a lot of time and money if they had just looked at prior research. In 2007, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) blew apart the belief that antioxidant supplements might be beneficial.

The paper was titled, "Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements for Primary and Secondary Prevention."

Medical researchers looked at 68 randomized trials with 232,606 participants. They found people who took the ANTIOXIDANT SUPPLEMENTS, beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E; DIED SOONER  than people who took a placebo.

It's confusing, because dozens of studies still show eating FOODS high in antioxidants are good for you. Since that groundbreaking study, there have been dozens of follow-ups confirming the research. You need to get antioxidants from food, along with the other things those foods provide, for antioxidants to be helpful.

Unfortunately, Newsweek showed pictures of whole fruit, while the article mentioned blueberries and green tea, incorrectly leading the reader to believe they were somehow involved.

I'm going to repeat what I've been saying (and research has repeatedly proven) since 2007. The way you get your antioxidants matters. If it's in fruits and vegetables you body does well. Take them in a pill and they can cause an early death.

Don't let the misleading photos and text of a Newsweek article convince you of anything else.

Get your antioxidants from whole foods, not supplements!
Get your antioxidants from whole foods, not supplements.

UPDATE: 4/14/2019

In a study from Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, researchers once again confirmed that antioxidant SUPPLEMENTS do indeed boost the growth of severe skin cancer. They also increase the spread of lung cancer.

The researchers concluded that people who are at risk of cancer, or who currently have cancer, should NOT take antioxidant SUPPLEMENTS.

We've been sounding the alarm about antioxidant supplements since 2010, so it's nice to know more and more researchers are speaking out. Naturally occurring antioxidants found in food? Those have been shown to be GOOD! Supplements stuffed with antioxidants in the form of a pill? BAD! What you eat MATTERS.

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11/29/2015
Updated 4/14/2019