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Antioxidant supplements could accelerate cancer growth, study finds

Antioxidants have long been described as substances with cancer-preventing properties, protecting our bodies from any potential harm. But a new study has placed them under fire, revealing they may actually have the opposite effect on tumour growth.  

Antioxidants have a seemingly platinum rating in the world of health and wellness. They’re the headlining ingredient on most health-food labels and supplement commercials, and they’re eagerly endorsed by countless health professionals and nutrition experts. 

Their stellar reputation for boosting our health has inspired thousands of replicas across the supplement industry, each attempting to reproduce the slew of health benefits associated with the hero agents. In turn, antioxidants have led the charge in the fight against our physical deterioration for decades.

But a recent study by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet has revealed the long-revered substances also possess catalytic properties towards tumour growth and metastasis.

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According to healthdirect, Antioxidants play a vital role in our body. Typically, they’ve been classified as protectors, neutralising free-radicals and preventing the negative effects a build up can incur on our health. 

While the body naturally produces antioxidants, and common types (such as vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3) are readily found in common food sources, the supplement industry offers a range of artificial antioxidants, allowing people to easily increase their daily intake beyond the recommended amount. 

What did the study uncover? 

Exploring the stimulatory effect of dietary supplements containing vitamin C and other antioxidants on existing lung cancer tumours, the study concluded newfound blood vessels had developed, growing the cancers. 

The findings come as a surprise to many, as given their ability to neutralise reactive oxygen species that cause damage to DNA, it has long been hypothesised that antioxidants should be able to protect our bodies against cancer. 

„We’ve found that antioxidants activate a mechanism that causes cancer tumours to form new blood vessels, which is surprising, since it was previously thought that antioxidants have a protective effect,“ says Martin Bergö, leader of the study and vice president of Karolinska Institutet. 

In essence, the new blood vessels formed by the intervention of supplement-derived antioxidants were found to nourish the tumours, helping them grow and spread. The findings of this study corroborate the long-suspected idea that dietary supplements containing antioxidants can have detrimental effects on tumours, as well as in general.

Research by the same team has previously shown that common antioxidants like vitamin C and E speed up the growth of lung cancer by stabilising a protein called BACH1. Now, the findings of this study prove that the activation of BACH1 induces the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis).

Have antioxidants been cancelled?

If the findings of this study have you wanting to throw out your citrus fruits and swear off seafood indefinitely, think again. Natural antioxidants produced by your body and found in healthy, nutritious foods aren’t the suspects under scrutiny here. 

„There’s no need to fear antioxidants in normal food but most people don’t need additional amounts of them,“ says Professor Bergö. „In fact, it can be harmful for cancer patients and people with an elevated cancer risk.“

So as the findings of the study demonstrate, not everything can be safely replicated in supplement form. While the research delivers a warning to those highly dependent on artificial supplements, there’s no need to cut out natural sources of the substance. 

Maintaining a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich ingredients is still very much recommended by the team responsible for the study.  

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Could your breast implants be making you sick?

It’s been a cosmetic surgery staple for decades. Now, a way to boost your bust is being blamed for a range of hard-to-pinpoint health issues.

Always wanted a bigger cup size. Missing the volume that gravity and children robbed. Recovering post-mastectomy. Sick of pokey push-up bras. Chicken fillets belong on a plate. Whatever the reason, an estimated 20,000 Aussie women elect to have breast-enhancement surgery each year.

So it’s easy to assume the millions of implants that have happened around the globe over the past century, along with advances in technology, mean the side effects and risks have been whittled down to a bare minimum.

But experts now suspect the opposite is true. In fact, aside from very obvious complications like rupture and infection, evidence suggests a far greater number of recipients experience a vague but crippling condition called breast implant illness (BII). And as medical and community awareness grows, so are the number of women wanting their implants out.

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Television host and bestselling author, Andi Lew, is one such woman. She experienced BII – which presents as a constellation of symptoms including fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headaches and brain fog – due to an undetected rupture. Six surgeons and an MRI told her there was no issue before she found a doctor who took her concerns seriously.

“I didn’t know how deep the suffering was until I started joining the dots,” says Lew of the symptoms, which can occur either immediately after implant surgery or many years later. “It impacted my ability to earn, to concentrate, my ability to have any kind of relationship, and my relationship with myself was terrible because I thought that I was going crazy.”

Lew had explant surgery earlier this year and is thrilled with the results. “After my removal, I felt instantly better. The weight was literally off my chest,” she says. “The inflammation started to decrease within days.” She’s now written a book about nurturing women through their explant journey, which will be available in October in bookstores across Australia.

“The exact causes of BII are still unknown and being investigated,” says Dr Alia Kaderbhai, a GP and chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Breast Medicine network.

“We know it can occur with any type of implant, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has ruptured. We’re even seeing this illness in implants that are intact.”

So what’s going on? The strongest hypothesis is that some patients are predisposed to an immune reaction to the implant materials, with the body then reacting to the consequent inflammation.

Treatment generally involves having an explant and capsulectomy, the removal of the thickened scar tissue that’s formed around the implant. However, getting to that point can be a long road of inconclusive tests and ruling out other causes.

Professor Anand Deva is the head of cosmetic, plastic and reconstructive surgery at Macquarie University in Sydney. He and a team of researchers have been studying the symptoms of BII to better understand the condition.

“There are no specific diagnostic criteria, as BII is yet to be officially recognised as a medical condition,” the surgeon notes. It’s also important to rule out other conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid issues, or iron and vitamin D deficiency, he says.

Personal stylist and health coach, Elisha Casagrande, was in the dark about BII when she began to experience symptoms four years after her implant surgery. “I heard the term roughly two years after my explant,” she says. “I was never informed about the risks of BII, not before my implants, nor during the years when my symptoms were at their worst.”

For Casagrande, implant removal has been life-changing. “My immune system has drastically improved, and I no longer have any auto-immune type symptoms. Coincidentally, clothes look better now than they ever did with implants, I have far greater upper body strength, and I can now lie comfortably in bed at night, which has improved my sleep quality and energy levels throughout the day.”

Something more women are reporting as awareness around this silent health issue (and the explant movement) continues to rise.

Five health red flags

Dr Kaderbhai suggests speaking to your GP – and asking to be thoroughly checked out with BII in mind – if you have implants and experience any of these symptoms:

  • Brain fog
  • Poor concentration
  • Unusual rashes
  • Joint aches
  • New-onset respiratory illness

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