Scientists based at the Karolinska Institutet, a research-led medical university at Solna, Sweden, are concerned about vitamin and mineral supplementation.

Common antioxidants, such as vitamin C, are considered safe when eaten from food, but extra supplementation is now linked to the formation of new blood vessels in tumours.

A professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Martin Bergö, explained what his team discovered.

Professor Bergö said: “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.

“The new blood vessels nourish the tumours and can help them grow and spread.”

Professor Bergö added: “There’s no need to fear antioxidants in normal food but most people don’t need additional amounts of them.

“In fact, it can be harmful for cancer patients and people with an elevated cancer risk.”

The team found that antioxidants reduce the levels of free oxygen radicals, but when extra amounts are introduced the drop in free radicals activates a protein called BACH1.

This then induces the formation of new blood vessels, known as angiogenesis.

Vitamin A, C, selenium and zinc were all found to stimulate the formation of new blood vessels in lung cancer tumours.

The scientists believe these findings could apply to all cancers and could contribute to the spread of cancers.

Ting Wang, a doctoral student in Professor Bergö’s team, said: “Our study opens the door to more effective ways of preventing angiogenesis in tumours.

“For example, patients whose tumours exhibit high levels of BACH1 might benefit more from anti-angiogenesis therapy than patients with low BACH1 levels.”

Looking at lung, breast, and kidney tumours, the researchers found that when BACH1 was activated – either through ingested antioxidants or overexpression of the gene – more blood vessels were produced.

Yet, those blood vessels produced were highly sensitive to angiogenesis inhibitors.

Ms Wang added: “The next step is to examine in detail how levels of oxygen and free radicals can regulate the BACH1 protein, and we will continue to determine the clinical relevance of our results.

“We’ll also be doing similar studies in other cancer forms such as breast, kidney and skin cancer.”

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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