From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

May 26, 2022

Sacco-John-F-MD-2017 OHC

John Sacco, MD, OHC radiation oncologist and integrative medicine specialist

If there was one thing to eat that could prevent cancer, chances are extremely likely that this powerful food would become a staple in nearly every individual’s diet. As a leading cause of death worldwide, cancer touches the lives of everyone on the planet. With so much buzz about the cancer-fighting ability of antioxidants, should we rush to add more of this substance to our diets? Let’s take a closer look at what exactly antioxidants are and what they do inside our bodies when we consume them.

Our bodies produce free radicals, or waste substances, when we breathe or exercise, and after being exposed to environmental toxins like cigarette smoke, the sun’s harmful rays, and air pollution. “At high concentrations, free radicals can damage cells and potentially play a role in cancer development,” noted OHC radiation oncologist and integrative medicine specialist John Sacco, MD. Cancer is the uncontrolled abnormal growth of cells resulting from changes in their genetic material. Antioxidants are chemicals that help to prevent cell damage resulting from the circulation of free radicals in our bodies, which is why they have been thought to keep cells less vulnerable to becoming cancerous.

Foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (compounds that give vegetables and fruits their red, orange, and yellow colors), and many phytochemicals (plant-based chemicals) contain antioxidants. Antioxidant supplements are also available. A grocery list for an antioxidant-rich diet would include:

  • Colorful fruits and vegetables including peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and spinach
  • Citrus fruits
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

By consuming antioxidants are we arming our bodies with the power to ward off cancer? “Unfortunately, we do not yet have enough evidence to say with absolute certainty that a diet rich in antioxidants reduces cancer risk,” said Dr. Sacco.

The buzz about antioxidants began in the 1990s when the substances were promoted as a way to prevent illnesses including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis. Scientists noticed that people with diets high in antioxidants had a lower incidence of these conditions. Data from their studies is unreliable as people with an antioxidant-rich diet might also be taking vitamins, exercising more frequently, or living healthier lifestyles in general. However, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) did report that laboratory and animal studies revealed that increased levels of antioxidants prevented the types of free radical damage associated with cancer development.

Researchers then turned their attention to a possible link between dietary antioxidant supplements and cancer prevention. According to the NCI, to date, nine randomized controlled trials of dietary antioxidant supplements for cancer prevention have been conducted worldwide. They did not provide evidence that these supplements are linked to primary cancer prevention. The American Cancer Society concurs and cautions that some studies have found an increased risk of cancer among those taking supplements.

It might be that the antioxidants in foods are working together with other substances, like essential vitamins and minerals, that are good for our bodies. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), there is no single food by itself that protects us from cancer. A heart-healthy diet filled with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and other plant foods helps lower the risk for many cancers. “The benefits of this type of diet go beyond cancer prevention,” said Dr. Sacco. “Eating healthy promotes heart health, increases your energy level, and supports your immune system.” U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits a day and selecting a colorful variety.

Dr. Sacco urges all cancer patients to discuss any supplement use, including antioxidants, with their doctor as some might worsen your prognosis or reduce the effectiveness of treatments. For helpful cancer prevention tips or to request a second opinion with one of OHC’s cancer doctors, call 1-888-649-4800 or visit

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