Cancer – the principles of prevention and treatment Part 4 by Dr. Sarah Myhill
Improve Antioxidant Status
Most cancers are probably initiated by free radicals. These are highly reactive molecules with an unpaired electron so they “stick” readily to almost anything and in doing so cause damage. Free radicals are inevitably produced as part of energy production and can be used by the immune system to kill bacteria and viruses. However too many are damaging and the body has a series of “antioxidants” which mop up the free radicals to prevent excessive damage. Low levels of superoxide dismutase (made from copper, manganese and zinc) and glutathione peroxidase (from selenium) are major risk factors for cancer. There are many natural antioxidants in foods, hence the standard advice to eat 5 portions a day of vegetables and fruit.
It is very common to find extremely poor antioxidant status in cancer patients, partly because having poor antioxidant status is a major risk factor for developing cancer in the first place, secondly because the three main therapies used to treat cancer, namely surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy produce increased load of free radicals. Indeed the mechanism by which radiotherapy and chemotherapy kill cancer cells are through the production of excessive free radicals. This is one of the ironies of these two treatments – they can create cancers as well cure them. But all these excessive free radicals further depletes anti-oxidants.
So improving antioxidant status not only greatly reduces one’s chances of further tumours, but also greatly protects against the malign side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At one stage there was concern that improving antioxidant status would block the beneficial effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but there is no evidence that this is indeed the case.
The three important frontline antioxidants, which in my view should be measured in every case are superoxide dismutase, co-enzyme Q10 and glutathione peroxidase. These are present in microgram amounts, they will mop excess electrons and pass them back to a second line of antioxidants such as vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin E, some of the B vitamins, lipoic acid, melatonin and many other such natural molecules, which then re-cycle the electron back to the ultimate repository of electrons, which is ascorbic acid. This makes vitamin C, of course, doubly important in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Vitamin D merits a special mention. Vitamin D is highly protective against cancer. The best source is sunshine – not so much that you burn (which causes free radical damage to skin) but enough to make you tan. When there is no sunshine take cholecalciferol at least 2,000 (two thousand) international units and up to 5,000iu daily (at this level of treatment there are no adverse effects on calcium levels),. or use tanning tables regularly – but do not burn! There is a clear relationship between sunshine exposure and risk of cancer, i.e. the more sunshine you can get without actually burning, the more you are protected from getting cancer.