The U.S. researchers set out to investigate the role of antioxidants in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Antioxidants protect your body’s cells from oxidative damage. Cancer drugs and radiation, on the other hand, actually work (to some degree) by creating oxidative damage. The researchers worried that high doses of certain antioxidants could lessen the effectiveness of some cancer treatments. And since most women seem to take one kind of supplement or another when treated for breast cancer, the research team wanted to know if there were any antioxidants that could be considered helpful or harmful.
They studied data from questionnaires filled out by 2,264 U.S. women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Overall, 81% said they’d used at least one supplement containing antioxidants within two years of being diagnosed. The researchers then looked for a positive or negative effect from this supplement use.
The researchers found that women who took supplements containing either vitamin C or vitamin E six to seven days a week had a lower risk of cancer recurrence. For example, 540 women who took vitamin C had a 15% chance of breast cancer recurrence, compared to a 19% chance in the 1,072 women who did not use vitamin-C supplements. This rate of difference was almost the same for vitamin E.
When it came to having the opposite effect, for 89 women who used carotenoids six to seven days per week, 18% died of breast cancer. In a striking comparison, the researchers found that only seven of women who didn’t use carotenoid supplements died.
What can you take away from this study? Are carotenoids bad for you if you’re a woman? The researchers have this advice: antioxidant supplements have different effects on different diseases in the body. You may want to get your doctor’s advice about using supplements containing carotenoids. Vitamin A, beta-carotene and lutein are all carotenoids.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the study found no harmful effects from taking carotenoids that were added to multi-vitamins. It was only high doses of carotenoids that seemed to exert a negative effect on breast cancer recurrence. In general, multivitamins may still act as good alternative remedy in the fight against breast cancer.