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Blood Cancer Patients - Empower your Cancer Killing Cells with Antioxidants
Posted: Feb 27, 2023
Blood Cancer Patients - Empower your Cancer Killing Cells with Antioxidants image

Help your cancer-killing immune system cells like natural killer (NK) cells and T-cells be more effective at killing cancer cells by decreasing excess oxidative stress with antioxidants. 

What is Oxidative Stress? 

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body's ability to detoxify them with antioxidants. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are a result of some normal body processes, but can be produced in excess when there is a high and chronic intake of the following environmental sources:

  • Refined carbohydrates (to reduce excess oxidative stress, swap with whole grain flour. There are options that still taste similar to refined flour using whole-grain soft white wheat flour. You can use brands like Bob's Red Mill or others)
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners like aspartame (to reduce excess oxidative stress, swap with cane sugar)
  • Excess intense exercise: "Antioxidant defenses are sufficient to meet an increase in free radical production during low-intensity exercise, but as exercise-intensity increases, these defenses are surpassed resulting in significant oxidative stress" -Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal
  • Meats cured with nitrates and nitrites 
  • Excess saturated fats
  • Excess iron consumption 
  • Imbalance of too much copper and not enough zinc (homes plumbed with copper pipe can result in copper leaching into the water. The body needs some copper, but it if is too much, then it results in cells' p53 protein being unable to do its job of suppressing cell tumors, repairing DNA, and telling cells beyond repair to die. If your home is plumbed with copper pipe, increasing zinc consumption can help support the tumor-suppressing protein to work well. This should be done under the guidance of a registered dietitian or your doctor. Eating too much zinc is also not good as it displaces too much copper from cells' binding sites. See here to learn more about this subject.)
  • Aluminum intake 
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Alcohol
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • Radiation
  • Pollution
  • Harmful metals like lead or mercury

How This Impacts Blood Cancer Patients 

Strengthen Cancer-killing Immune System Cells

The body produces cancer-killing immune system cells like natural killer (NK) cells and T-cells. In diseases like blood cancers, these cells may get exhausted and not work well in an environment with excess oxidative stress. A study showed that cancer-killing immune system cells with higher antioxidant levels worked better at fighting cancer cells and were able to stay active for longer than those with decreased antioxidant levels. Reducing excess oxidative stress with antioxidants allows the NK cells and T-cells' mitochondria to not be impaired by fatigue and be able to do their job of converting energy stores into energy, keeping the cell working. 

This can help support the anti-cancer cells patients currently have or help patients receiving CAR T-cell therapy (CAR T-cell therapy for CLL is in clinical trials) support the re-engineered T-cells to work better at destroying the cancer. Further studies are needed to review the timing of when to increase antioxidants for patients and the appropriate dose. Too many antioxidants may not be helpful as the body needs an oxidant and antioxidant balance. 

If there are enough cancer-killing immune system cells to empower such as during a remission period with little to no cancer cells and they can keep up with the maintenance of killing any new cancer cells, increasing antioxidant consumption to reverse NK cell and T-cell exhaustion could help the patient remain in a long remission.

If cancer cells have progressed to a point that they have crowded out other types of blood cells and there aren't enough NK cells or T-cells to empower, high antioxidant food/spice items may not be advised without the help of targeted therapies to place the patient into a remission. Patients in this position may also benefit by receiving CAR T-cell therapy to increase the number of cancer-killing T-cells that antioxidants can then empower. 

One facility that is currently reviewing reversing CAR T-cell exhaustion with antioxidants for patients is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Read more about MSK's clinical trial led by Dr. Gunjan L. Shah here

Protect the Health of Other Cells

Reducing excess oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant consumption also helps protect healthy cells and their DNA. High amounts of oxidative stress for long periods of time may damage cells' DNA. If the oxidative stress happens to damage part of the DNA that contains instructions to repair DNA, suppress tumors, or tell cells beyond repair to die, then the cell is left with damaged instructions that could then allow the ineffective mutated cell to keep multiplying (cancer cell). 


The antioxidant level in food is measured using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value. 

“ORAC value uses the "total antioxidant capacity" of a food by placing a sample of the food in a test tube, along with certain molecules that generate free radical activity and certain other molecules that are vulnerable to oxidation. After a while, they measure how well the sample protected the vulnerable molecules from oxidation by the free radicals. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance” (ORAC value).

Here is a list of foods and spices with high ORAC values (spice list is per 100g): 

Support your health by reducing the intake of environmental substances that cause excess oxidative stress and increasing your consumption of foods and spices high in antioxidants. Visit HealthTree's Recipes for CLL Patients page for ideas on how to include more antioxidants in your meals. 

The author Megan Heaps

about the author
Megan Heaps

Megan joined HealthTree in 2022. As a writer and the daughter of a blood cancer patient, she is dedicated to helping patients and their caregivers understand the various aspects of their disease. This understanding enables them to better advocate for themselves and improve their treatment outcomes. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family.