(NaturalNews) For the first time, scientists have discovered a genetic pathway suggesting that antioxidants may help in the treatment of cancer, according to a study conducted by researchers from Thomas Jefferson University and published in the journal Cancer Biology & Therapy.
Scientists have known for a long time that diets high in antioxidant-containing foods are associated with a lower risk of cancer. This effect is widely attributed to the fact that antioxidants remove DNA-damaging free radicals from the body.
"Reactive oxygen species [free radicals] are formed in vivo during normal aerobic metabolism and can cause damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids, despite the natural antioxidant defense system of all organisms," writes Erich Grotewold in the book The Science of Flavonoids.
"Diets high in flavonoids, fruits, and vegetables are protective against a variety of diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer," he writes.
Yet now researchers have shown that antioxidants may not just prevent, but also treat cancer. The Thomas Jefferson University researchers had previously discovered a protein called Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) that, when present in the human genome, suppresses tumor growth. Indeed, the presence or absence of the Cav-1 protein is the single best predictor of breast cancer outcome. Women with triple-negative breast cancer - the most deadly kind - are more than 75 percent likely to be alive 12 years after diagnosis if they have the protein, and less than 10 percent likely to be alive five years after diagnosis if they lack it.
The researchers further verified that Cav-1 plays an antioxidant role in the body. In the current study, the researchers confirmed that when Cav-1 is removed, oxidative stress in breast cancer tumors increases, leading to a 300 percent increase in tumor mass and volume.
"Antioxidants have been associated with cancer reducing effects - beta carotene, for example - but the mechanisms, the genetic evidence, has been lacking," lead researcher Michael P. Lisanti said. "This study provides the necessary genetic evidence that reducing oxidative stress in the body will decrease tumor growth."
The findings may actually cast doubt on the effectiveness of many chemotherapy drugs, which are actually known to increase oxidative stress. They also suggest that many antioxidant drugs used to treat other conditions, such as diabetes and malaria, may be effective in treating cancer.