Antioxidants and Reducing Cancer Risk

Katrina Claghorn, RD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

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Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
Should I take antioxidants to reduce my risk of cancer?

Katrina Claghorn, RD, Oncology Dietitian for The University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

Antioxidants have been shown to have many health benefits. Besides reducing the incidence of heart disease and stroke, antioxidants may help reduce the incidence of cancer. They act as protective substances by destroying free radicals, which are the harmful by-products formed through the body's metabolism. Free radicals damage cells and initiate carcinogenesis which is the development of cancerous cells. Vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E and selenium are all antioxidants. In addition there are hundreds more naturally occurring antioxidants found in plant foods.

Studies have shown that antioxidants work best when combined and that the presence of fiber and other plant compounds may provide additional health benefits. Consequently it is recommended that you get most of your antioxidants from your diet rather than relying on supplements.

Although toxic levels for antioxidants have not been established, excessive levels can be harmful and may interfere with cancer therapies. If you are under going any cancer therapy it is important to inform your doctor of any supplements you are taking.

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