CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (CBS Connecticut) – Often touted as a holistic approach to fighting cancer, new research suggests antioxidants do nothing to prevent the disease, and might actually increase a person’s cancer risk in some cases, reports Live Science.

Researchers analyzed previous studies on antioxidants and cancer in an effort to find out why the supplements don’t seem to reduce cancer risk.

Earlier studies suggested that an increased intake of antioxidants could counteract the damaging effect of certain molecules that can damage cells and lead to cancer.

“(A)lthough some early preclinical studies supported this concept, dietary antioxidants have consistently failed to reduce the incidence of carcinoma in prospective human clinical trials,” said the study. “Rather, some studies have even suggested a harmful effect of antioxidants in persons at risk for cancer.”

The authors also pointed to a January study in which researchers found two antioxidants, vitamin E and N-acetylcysteine, actually accelerated the progression of lung cancer in mice.

The researchers said antioxidants may not reach the right parts of cancer cells in living tissue and thus cannot stop the damage to the cell. It’s also possible the antioxidants do reach the right parts of the cell, but only make the cancer stronger.

The study recommends further research into exactly where in the body antioxidants go, as well as more effective ways to prevent and treat cancer.

Other scientists tell Live Science that people should continue to consume natural sources of antioxidants, found in fruits and vegetables, but should be wary of antioxidant dietary supplements.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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