Can certain antioxidants help prevent cancer in older women?

With no cure to speak of and many treatment options bringing harsh side effects, prevention is a major focus for both seniors and health care professionals in the fight against cancer. While knowledge as to specific causes of various cancer types may be somewhat limited, new strides are being made in preventive science.

A recent study has found that antioxidants, substances present in many popular food items, may be instrumental in helping seniors stave off cancer. This information may further reinforce the importance of diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors in cancer prevention and senior care.

Antioxidants may reduce cancer risk in senior women
A report coming out of Wayne State University in Detroit has revealed that an antioxidant known as lycopene may play a significant role in preventing kidney cancer in older women. Researchers looked at data from over 96,000 women and followed up with them after a 20-year period. Those women who reported ingesting higher levels of lycopene were 39 percent less likely to have developed kidney cancer than those whose diets were less lycopene-heavy. While other antioxidants such as lutein, vitamin C and vitamin E were observed as well, lycopene was the only micronutrient that displayed such a high correlation between ingestion and cancer prevention.

The researchers noted that it’s not just kidneys that are protected by lycopene. Increased levels of the nutrient in senior diets have also been linked to reduced occurrences of breast cancer, as well as prostate cancer in men. While this particular study focused on senior women, there is evidence to suggest that both women and men can benefit from increased antioxidant intake.

How do antioxidants help?
The Wayne State study isn’t the first to suggest a possible link between increased levels of antioxidants and decreased risk of cancer. There has been talk within the medical community for some time of the possible benefits of an antioxidant-rich diet. According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidants can serve as a natural defense against processes that may contribute to the development of cancer cells. As part of the aging process, the body accumulates what are known as free radicals – chemicals that can expose cells to unhealthy amounts of radiation if they are allowed to accumulate. This exposure is thought to contribute to the risk of cancer development.

Antioxidants are nutrients that eliminate these free radicals, preventing them from building up in quantities that can pose a potential health concern. While some of these antioxidants are produced naturally by the body, many require external supplements.

Antioxidants, diet and prevention
Because the body typically doesn’t produce enough antioxidants on its own to facilitate effective cancer prevention, seniors are encouraged to adjust their diets to consume more antioxidant-rich foods. The Mayo Clinic listed a variety of foods that have been touted for their high antioxidant content. Fortunately, many of these are already encouraged as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Dark, leafy greens such as kale, fruits and berries, and nuts such as walnuts and almonds are all reported to be good sources of these nutrients. Popular beverages may also help supplement antioxidant intake – pomegranate juice is a common choice, but the source noted that even coffee, tea and wine can be beneficial in this regard.

More than just being direct sources of antioxidants, healthy foods can help prevent cancer in additional ways. Eating healthy, nutritionally balanced meals can lead to weight loss, decreased sodium intake and lower blood pressure. These factors have been identified as being independent risks for cancer in their own right. This is why it’s doubly important for caregivers to encourage not just a healthy diet, but regular exercise as part of a senior’s healthy lifestyle.


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