Do you take daily vitamin supplements?
It’s no surprise if you do. It seems intuitive to presume that intake of a substance which corrects a deficiency would be beneficial for your health.
Plus the global supplement industry is valued at $68 billion, with the vitamin segment accounting for the largest source of revenue in that industry. Given this popularity and the number of celebrities using them, you’d think there must be conclusive scientific evidence that they work right?
Well, there’s not.
In fact, there’s actually been mounting research finding multivitamin supplements do not always deliver the anti-aging, disease-fighting benefits they promise.
And now results from an ongoing genetic study at the Biotechnology Centre at the University of Oslo suggest synthetic antioxidants, or vitamin supplements, could actually harm cells, damaging your DNA.
Studying genetics, let alone the direct cause and effect a particular substance has on genetic control is incredibly difficult and time consuming to do on humans. As such, many research groups currently use a small organism — a one millimetre long nematode called Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) — to examine how “repair proteins” take care of various types of DNA. C. elegans lives approximately 25 days, and has 20,000 genes, only a few thousand fewer than humans. (Note: Care2 does not endorse animal testing of any kind and believes there are viable alternatives to medical research that do not involve the testing or killing of animals.)
“C. elegans is a fantastically powerful tool, because we can change its hereditary properties,” said Hilde Nilsen, head of the research group.
“We can increase its ability to repair DNA damage, or we can remove it altogether. We can also monitor what happens when damage to DNA is not repaired — in several hundred specimens and through their entire lifespan.”
Different Paths to Combat Cell Damage
Researchers found that specimiens of C. elegans with an inability to repair damaged DNA actually had less DNA damage, opposite to what you would expect to find.
“We were surprised when we saw that these mutants do not in fact accumulate the DNA damage that would cause ageing,” Ms. Hilde said.
Known as reprogramming, it’s proof that organisms have different mechanisms for combating oxidative damage, which is important for ensuring we produce healthy offspring.
“Nature uses this strategy to minimise the negative consequences of its inability to repair the DNA, said Ms. Hilde. “Initiating a survival response that reinforces the antioxidant defences means that a lack of ability to repair the DNA has less impact that it would otherwise have on our reproduction.”
In other words, antioxidants subduing oxidants is not the only path of preventing cell damage. Organisms with reprogrammed cells would not benefit from additional antioxidants, and may in fact be greater harmed by the addition of synthetic antioxidants.
It‘s All About Balance
In each of the hundred trillion cells in the body, up to 200,000 instances of damage to DNA take place every day. Damage comes from a variety of environmental and lifestyle factors, which generate harmful oxidants in our body (and hence why anti-oxidants are protective).
However, most damage is just the result of natural, life-sustaining processes, coined as aging.
Results from this research emphasize that in order to protect DNA as best as possible, our body’s cells must maintain the delicate balance between oxidants and antioxidants. Upsetting this homeostasis can cause harm to the cells.
“The cells in our body use this fragile balance to establish the best possible conditions for themselves, and it is specially adapted for each of us,” Ms. Hilde said. “When we take supplements of antioxidants, such as C and E vitamins, we may upset this balance.”
We all suspect too much of an artificial substance can’t be good. It’s just not natural.
Perhaps it’s time to start taking your daily vitamins from food, not from bottled pills.
Over to you. Have you successfully replaced a vitamin pill with real foods before?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock