Antioxidant bombshell & a Brooklyn scoop

Well, that was a bit of an unplanned hiatus. With several house guests and the beginning of marathon training (!), blogging just didn't happen last week. But I'm back! And I've got some thoughts on recent health news, as well as a little self-promotion. (Don't worry, I hid that part at the end so you can skip it if you want ;) )

On Friday, I came across this post on IFL Science about a new study showing that eating a lot of antioxidants -- you know, those things that are supposed to help prevent cancer -- can actually make cancer worse.

I love that this kind of research is being done because it means scientists are taking our "magic pill" culture and its dangerous implications seriously.

First, it's important to note that despite claims made by everyone from Dr. Oz to the people who write what goes on your yogurt container, the science on the impact of antioxidants on the body is conflicting: some studies show a possible correlation with better health, others show that it might be all hype. But now we have some evidence that antioxidants might actually be harmful.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the new study looked at how cells balance oxidizing and anti-oxidizing molecules that ultimately control a lot of cellular processes, including the development of cancer. IFL Science explains:

While oxidants are critical to cellular function, if they are produced in excess they can damage the cell. Cells produce natural antioxidants to prevent this from happening, but in cancer cells the balance is disrupted and high levels of these so called reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced, promoting cancer. This is because ROS can cause genetic mutations and activate pathways that stimulate cell growth. It therefore seemed logical to conclude that antioxidants would thwart cancer progression, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

This is likely because antioxidants added to the body through diet or supplements don't get to the right place in the cell to prevent the accumulation of ROS.

And on top of that, the researchers suggest that dietary antioxidants might accelerate tumor growth.

But there's good news too! IFL Science reports that the researchers found some success when antioxidants were modified to be able to target specific locations within cells.

The study is big and there are a lot of other interesting details; I highly recommend heading over to NEJM or IFL Science to read more.


On a completely unrelated note, I want to share a scoop I got last week in a story I've been following for more than a year. If you live in Brooklyn you may have heard that there's a hospital in Cobble Hill that's owned by the state, which has been trying for months to sell it to a private developer, since it's been bleeding money for years. The whole process of selecting a new owner has been incredibly controversial, in part because while this is going on, health services for local residents are very limited. There's also an alleged element of racial discrimination in all this, and I had a piece on Law360 Tuesday about a possible impending lawsuit. The state has agreed to a sale with a new developer, but it doesn't seem like this story is ending any time soon.