DNA pioneer James Watson takes aim at cancer establishments | Reuters
One such commonality is oxygen radicals. Those forms of oxygen rip apart other components of cells, such as DNA. That is why antioxidants, which have become near-ubiquitous additives in grocery foods from snack bars to soda, are thought to be healthful: they mop up damaging oxygen radicals.
That simple picture becomes more complicated, however, once cancer is present. Radiation therapy and many chemotherapies kill cancer cells by generating oxygen radicals, which trigger cell suicide. If a cancer patient is binging on berries and other antioxidants, it can actually keep therapies from working, Watson proposed.
"Everyone thought antioxidants were great," he said. "But I'm saying they can prevent us from killing cancer cells."
Research backs him up. A number of studies have shown that taking antioxidants such as vitamin E do not reduce the risk of cancer but can actually increase it, and can even shorten life. But drugs that block antioxidants - "anti-antioxidants" - might make even existing cancer drugs more effective.
Anything that keeps cancer cells full of oxygen radicals "is likely an important component of any effective treatment," said cancer biologist Robert Benezra of Sloan-Kettering.