Common Misconceptions about Cancer

During the past three decades, extensive research on antioxidants, diet, and cancer prevention and treatment has been published in peer-reviewed journals and gives an inconsistent message the public and health professionals regarding the value of antioxidants. Many popular magazines and books have also reported contradicting claims regarding the usefulness of antioxidants for maintaining good health and preventing or treating cancer.

Micronutrients include antioxidants, B vitamins, and certain minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc. Some antioxidants are made in the body, such as glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, and antioxidant enzyme. They are usually referred to as dietary antioxidants. Both endogenous and dietary antioxidants are absolutely essential for our growth and survival. In addition, antioxidants protect our bodies against damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are atoms, molecules, or ions with unpaired electrons that are formed as by-products whenever oxygen is used by cells. Free radicals can be derived from oxygen or nitrogen and are symbolized by a dot.

Free radicals are highly damaging chemicals that are produced in the human body. They are generated through the use of oxygen, in the course of bacterial or viral infection, and in the context of the normal metabolisms of certain compounds in the body. There are several types of free radicals in the body; some are derived from oxygen, whereas others are derived from nitrogen. Oxidative stress refers to a condition in which high levels of free radicals are produced, causing damage to the cells. Increased oxidative stress is one of the most important risk factors for cancer.

Cell injury caused by physical agents such as radiation, free radicals, chemical toxins, mechanical trauma, or infection initiates an important biological event called inflammation. While this is generally considered a protective response, it can act as double-edged sword. Inflammation is needed to kill invading harmful organisms and for the removal of cellular debris in order to facilitate the recovery process, but inflammation can also damage normal tissues by releasing a number of toxic chemicals. Acute inflammation may not be involved in the formation of cancer, but acute inflammation that occurs during radiation therapy or chemotherapy can damage both normal and cancer cells.

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