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The essence of a healthy diet is a bit of a mystery. Everyone knows that a diet full of plant foods—fruits, vegetables, and nuts—is good for you, as it can lower the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments. But scientists, being scientists, want to know the exact reason, and they have long eyed antioxidants. These chemicals, found in high amounts in some plants, quench harmful molecules that can run amok in cells, fatally damaging DNA and the cellular machinery.

As the hypothesis that antioxidants offer health benefits took root in the minds of consumers, however, it shriveled in labs. Mounds of studies, conducted over decades, have found no conclusive link between antioxidants and lower disease risks. And, this month, two studies add to evidence that antioxidants may actually increase the spread and severity of some cancers.

Antioxidants and cancer

When cancer patients first get their diagnosis, many hit the internet to learn more, Martin Bergö, a molecular medicine researcher at the Karolinska Institute, told Ars. But, sadly, patients are often besieged with bogus claims that taking antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, can help treat their cancer, he said. And those antioxidants may end up hurting them.

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