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Antioxidant Supplements: Not the Bottled Superfood We Were Promised

Antioxidant Supplements: Not the Bottled Superfood We Were Promised

From green tea powders to multivitamins and goji berry pills, antioxidant supplements are more accessible and popular than ever before. But just because a smiling B-grade celebrity swears by them during the commercials of your favourite TV show, doesn’t necessarily mean they work.

For decades now it has been presumed that the more antioxidants we consume, the better our body’s ability to fight aging and disease will be, since they are the defense molecules that combat cell damage. This is a fair enough assumption given that there are thousands of these substances in our body.

But scientists are now discovering that’s not entirely true when it comes to the behavior of antioxidant supplements in the body. I must admit it’s not surprising in the least; the supplement industry players don’t actually have “your best intentions” documented anywhere in their marketing plan.

Multivitamin Supplements Falling Flat

Mounting evidence from large scientific studies is showing that antioxidants in a manufactured form, such as a multivitamin supplement, do not always deliver the anti-aging, disease fighting benefits they promised. In fact there are even some studies showing evidence that bottled antioxidants may do more harm than good. A Cochrane review study published last year looked at 78 randomized control trials (the most valued method of research), which included data on over 200,000 healthy people and nearly 81,000 people with various diseases. The comprehensive report concluded that, “The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.”

Those that had been using beta-carotene, and possibly vitamins E and A, actually had an increased risk of death. There was no risk associated with users of vitamin C or selenium.

Bottled Antioxidants May Be Undermining Benefits

Researchers also have reason to believe that antioxidant supplements could be detrimental to particular medical treatments. The study, looking at breast cancer sufferers, found that 70 percent of women were using high dose multivitamins during cancer treatment. This is despite the fact there is no conclusive evidence of the benefits.

The authors concluded that we desperately need studies investigating the effects of antioxidant supplements on breast cancer outcomes. They have reason to believe supplements could be mopping up the cancer fighting free radicals that radiation therapy creates, rendering the treatment ineffective.

To top it off, there’s even research suggesting that these supplements negate any beneficial effects of exercise. During intense physical activity, our muscles work harder, consequently producing far more free radicals than at rest. However, in this case, the free radicals produced play an integral role in some of the health benefits induced by exercise. It’s thought that benefits of working your tail off at the gym could all come unstuck by antioxidants reacting with those free radicals — not exactly results the supplement manufacturers plan on telling you anytime soon.

Nature Intended

Overall however, I actually think these are all fantastic findings. Why? It’s further evidence to prove that nothing can compare to eating real, whole foods. The fact of the matter is that bottled antioxidants just can’t mimic the real deal. We certainly still need plenty of antioxidants in our diet to be as healthy as possible, but it’s crucial we obtain them from natural food sources, such as berries, wholegrains and a variety of vegetables, rather than a 6-month old bottle in the medicine aisle. It’s what nature intended.

Do you take dietary supplements? If so we’d love to hear which type, and better still, which type works for you.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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102 comments

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8:46AM PST on Nov 13, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

1:33PM PST on Nov 12, 2013

thanks

1:28PM PST on Nov 12, 2013

noted

4:00AM PST on Nov 12, 2013

TY.

2:50PM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Moderation in everything, including moderation...;-)

2:47PM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Again I agree with Jacob!

It's probably true that IF a person has a good diet of fresh organic food, then that person needs few to no food supplements. But how many of us have access to that kind of diet?

Finally, repeating someone else's warning. Don't be misled by the word "natural". It's absolutely meaningless. After all, arsenic is natural!

7:44AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

1:36AM PST on Nov 11, 2013

Thank you :)

12:04PM PST on Nov 10, 2013

The ONLY 'antioxidants' used in the tests were Vitamins C and E, which both have proven to be NEEDED and HEALTHY for many reasons, and they were actually testing insulin resistance and whether free radicals might influence insulin sensitivity in already healthy individuals.

Any study or article that tries to make essential vitamins look like something to be avoided, and is used to smear similar supplements in general without supporting evidence that they are ALL the same, is very suspect in my book.

4:10AM PST on Nov 10, 2013

The article raises an important point: something that's touted "natural" isn't automatically good. Do your research before you try a new supplement, and don't flat out fall for advertising!

However, like with everything, moderation and a little common sense goes a long way. Doing a 360 and stopping using all supplements could be very short-sighted.

Of course everyone should aim for a healthy, balanced diet, and for many diet's enough. But, in many cases it's impossible to get everything from your diet. You can easily have a deficiency of certain minerals or vitamins; e.g. if you live in the Northern hemisphere and thus won't get sufficient vitamin D in the winter sun; if you have certain common conditions (IBS, celiac disease, endometriosis, etc); or if you go for the vegan diet so staunchly promoted by Care2.

Science already agrees that you can prevent health problems and control/help/cure numerous conditions by boosting certain minerals or vitamins more than it's possible through food intake. Personally, given the choice, I'll much rather get my fix from vitamins than drugs.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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