These Antioxidants Help Fight Free Radicals (& Prevent Cancer)
Antioxidants are perhaps best known for their cancer-preventing properties, but how they do this is less well known. Let's begin where cancer does—with free radicals.
Free radicals & cancer development
Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that can cause harm to our cells, their organelles, and other components (membranes, proteins, DNA, etc.) when found in high concentrations. Damage to cells caused by free radicals (especially DNA) can lead to cancer development.
5 antioxidants that can help prevent cancer:
- Resveratrol: This polyphenol is a potent antioxidant with antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic properties in high concentrations. Translation? Resveratrol and tumors don't tend to get along well. According to a 2019 Molecule review, it's best utilized in high-potency doses2 that can be found in supplements.
- Lycopene: Lycopene (along with the rest of the antioxidants on this list) is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are potent phytonutrients that help protect plants (and us, when we eat these plant foods) from oxidative stress. Several carotenoids have been found to help protect against various types of cancer3, according to a 2020 Molecular & Cell Biology review. Lycopene is a powerful lipophilic antioxidant that modulates signaling pathways and can even suppress cancer cell progression and modulate immune cells to suppress tumor growth and progression4 (particularly in lung and prostate cancer), per a 2021 Molecules review.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A (beta-carotene is the carotenoid form) is an essential nutrient that promotes cellular resilience, protects the skin, and supports eye health. Vitamin A (and carotenoids in general) demonstrates anti-tumor and anti-metastatic properties and has been shown to help protect against breast cancer risk5, per a 2021 Nutrients review.
- Lutein & zeaxanthin: The famous carotenoid duo lutein and zeaxanthin are also important to eye and brain health, as they support visual and cognitive function throughout the life span. According to a 2019 Scientific Reports hospital-based case-control study, participants with the highest lutein and zeaxanthin intake were found to have the lowest colorectal cancer risk6 compared to participants with the lowest intake of these carotenoids.
How multivitamins can help reduce cancer risk
Considering the connection between antioxidant intake and lowered cancer incidence, it's no surprise that consuming more of these free-radical-scavenging antioxidants can help protect our cells (and DNA) from damage.
One easy way to consume more antioxidants is to take a daily multivitamin/mineral with added phytonutrients that can help increase your total antioxidant capacity and ensure oxidative balance. In a 2019 clinical trial published in Nutrients, plant-centric multivitamin/mineral and phytonutrient supplementation was found to reduce reactive oxygen species and protect against DNA damage7 in healthy adults with habitually low consumption of fruits and vegetables without altering the body's endogenous antioxidant system.
In other words, supplementing with essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients is shown to support the body's antioxidant system and help buffer against oxidative stress (and cell damage that can lead to cancer). And what better way to get all of those powerful phytonutrients than with a high-quality daily multivitamin? In a seminal JAMA randomized controlled trial of almost 6,000 male physicians (from Harvard University's Physician's Health Study II), Additionally, multivitamin use was found to reduce the risk of total cancer by 8%8 compared to non-use.
(If you're looking for a multivitamin packed with antioxidant ingredients, you can find mindbodygreen's favorites in this roundup of best multis on the market today.)
Antioxidants are the MVPs you want on your daily wellness roster of cancer-preventing tools. For a boost of daily antioxidant support, add more antioxidant-rich foods to your diet and consider furthering your nutritional support with a comprehensive, quality multivitamin.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.