It was news when it was first revealed three years ago - and it was news again last week: antioxidant vitamins can speed up the development of cancer. But the researcher who first published the study has now admitted that she got it wrong.
The original study - which made headlines around the world - found that cancer patients who took either vitamin A (beta-carotene) or E (alpha tocopherol) supplements were 40 per cent more likely to suffer a recurrence of their cancer than those who didn't take any supplements.
Ever since, nutritionists and alternative therapists have been on the back foot, and have tried to defend the antioxidants. But their task was made even tougher last week when the prestigious Cochrane Collaborative released a meta-analysis that suggested that antioxidants may even shorten our life.
But the researchers, led by Isabelle Bairati from the Quebec Research Centre, who published the 2005 study, have re-analysed their original data, and have discovered they got it wrong. The only people in the study who were seeing their cancer return were smokers who refused to kick the habit while they were receiving radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Strangely, not a single newspaper has run with the story.
(Source: International Journal of Cancer, 2008; 122: 1679-83).