Antioxidants May Neutralize Asbestos, Help Prevent Mesothelioma

Foods High in Antioxidants

If you love fruits and vegetables, you’ll be happy to hear the findings from a new mesothelioma study. Evidence suggests the foods you eat can protect your body from the damage caused by asbestos exposure.

For nearly a century, researchers have sought to understand how asbestos causes harm to the human body. Despite decades of advanced research, we don’t know exactly how asbestos leads to mesothelioma. But we do have good hunches. One of those hunches is oxidative stress.

A team of Turkish researchers recently conducted a study to investigate oxidative stress in malignant mesothelioma. They discovered that a person’s level of oxidative stress can help predict their risk of developing the cancer. And they think antioxidants might provide powerful protection against oxidative stress.

Let’s explore what this means and how it can apply to the prevention of asbestos-related diseases, as well as the treatment of this cancer. What you’re about to read might inspire you to add different fruits and vegetables to your diet.

Asbestos Leads to Oxidative Stress

Once inside the body, asbestos leads to the formation of chemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS). These chemicals aren’t harmful at normal levels. They even provide important signals to the immune system. But when ROS levels aren’t kept in balance, they damage cells and your DNA.

Oxidative stress happens when ROS chemicals run rampant. For comparison, oxidative stress is similar to the chemical reaction that turns iron into rust. Scientists believe that oxidative stress is involved in the development of cancer and many other diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Antioxidants are what keep ROS chemicals in check. They neutralize ROS and prevent oxidative stress from happening. Certain antioxidants can even repair the damage done during states of oxidative stress.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Antioxidants are loosely defined as substances that repair the damage done by free radicals. They are found in the foods you eat. You consume antioxidants every day, especially if you eat a lot of produce, beans and whole grains.

ROS chemicals are a type of free radical, which is defined as a compound that steals electrons (the tiny particles that orbit atoms) from other compounds. That event causes a destructive chain reaction that can damage cells and DNA.

Antioxidants do the opposite of free radicals. They donate electrons. When a free radical like ROS steals an electron, an antioxidant’s role is to donate an electron, halting the destructive chain reaction originally spawned by the free radical.

Antioxidants are like water to an ROS wildfire, putting out the flames and preventing further destruction.

They help us avoid oxidative stress. However, when exposure to toxins like asbestos or cigarettes is substantial enough, ROS levels increase. When ROS chemicals outnumber the antioxidants, oxidative stress can occur.

Antioxidants for Mesothelioma Prevention and Treatment

Researchers wonder if supplying the body with plenty of antioxidants might offset the harm done by asbestos exposure. No study has directly investigated the potential, but a handful of studies have looked into related research topics.

For example, two scientific studies have investigated diet and mesothelioma risk. Both found the risk of the cancer was lower in people who ate more vegetables. The antioxidants in vegetables might be among the primary mechanisms responsible for the decreased risk.

Little research as examined the treatment value of antioxidants against mesothelioma. The results indicate that antioxidants might boost the effects of chemotherapy in people with the cancer. However, certain antioxidants might diminish the effects of chemotherapy.

A 2013 study conducted by Italian researchers took a look at how vitamin C and EGCG extract (the primary antioxidant in green tea) affect mesothelioma tumors when combined with the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine. The addition of vitamin C and EGCG reduced tumor growth and spreading more than chemotherapy alone. The study was conducted on mice, and the results are so promising that researchers suggested the treatment be tested in humans.

Eat a Variety of Antioxidant-Rich Foods

Here’s the takeaway: Eat antioxidant-rich foods on a regular basis. No matter what you’ve been exposed to in your lifetime, consuming a diet high in antioxidants will help your body repair and fend off disease.

Plant foods contain the highest amounts of antioxidants. Think vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and whole grains. Beef, poultry and seafood aren’t the greatest sources of antioxidants. However, meat, dairy and eggs that are organic and free-range contain more antioxidants than conventional sources. Researchers suspect that increased nutrient levels in organic feed and soil lead to higher antioxidant levels of organically grown foods. Plus, they’re free of potentially harmful hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.

Consider adding these antioxidant-rich foods into your regular diet:

  • Fruits: blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, prunes, raspberries and strawberries
  • Vegetables: artichokes, russet potatoes, broccoli and spinach
  • Beans: red beans, kidney beans and pinto beans
  • Nuts: pecans, walnuts and macadamia nuts
  • Grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats and barley

It’s important to note that supplementing with isolated antioxidants isn’t recommended. It should be especially avoided during chemotherapy. Make sure to discuss any supplements with your doctor prior to taking them during cancer therapy. Certain supplements can complicate traditional cancer treatment. For example, vitamin C is known to reduce the effectiveness of the mesothelioma chemotherapy drugs doxorubicin, methotrexate and vinblastine.

Anyone with prior asbestos exposure or a history of smoking should avoid supplementing with isolated beta-carotene. High doses of beta-carotene appear to increase the risk of lung cancer among smokers and asbestos-exposed individuals.

Oxidative stress isn’t the only mechanism through which asbestos harms the body. Asbestos may also damage cells more directly when asbestos fibers puncture through the lining of the lungs. Thankfully, scientists believe antioxidants may help repair this type of direct damage, too.
Several mesothelioma survivors say that transitioning to a plant-based diet made a positive impact on their health and overall wellness. Many cancer centers have nutritionists on staff to help people improve their diet. Ask your oncologist to recommend a nutritionist; every effort to improve your health will contribute to your quality of life.

  1. Crinnion, W.J. (2010). Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Alternative Medicine Review, 15(1): 4-12. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20359265
  2. Harvard School of Public Health. (2014). Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/
  3. Muscat, J.E. & Huncharek, M. (1996). Dietary intake and the risk of malignant mesothelioma. British Journal of Cancer, 73, 1122-1125. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2074388/pdf/brjcancer00037-0102.pdf
  4. Nemzer, B.V., Yashin, A. Y., & Yashin, Y.I. (2013). The issues of antioxidant therapy. American Journal of Biomedical Sciences, 5(2): 80-108. doi: 10.5099/aj130200080
  5. Oncology Nutrition. (2013, April). Is it safe to take antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy and radiation therapy? Retrieved from https://www.oncologynutrition.org/erfc/eating-well-when-unwell/is-it-safe-to-take-antioxidant-supplements-during-chemotherapy-and-radiation-therapy/
  6. Sezgi, C., Taylan, M., Sen, H.S., Evliyaoglu, O., Kaya, H., Abakay, O., … & Senyigit, A. (2014). Oxidative status and acute phase reactants in patients with environmental asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. The Scientific World Journal, vol. 2014, Article ID 902748, pp. 5. doi:10.1155/2014/902748
  7. Volta, V., Ranzato, E., Martinotti, S., Galli, S., Russo, M.V., Mutti, L., … & Burlando, B. (2013). Preclinical demonstration of synergistic active nutrienst/drug (AND) combination as a potential treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma. PLoS ONE, 8(3): e58051. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058051

Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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