Antioxidant Supplements: Good News and Bad
Antioxidants are a miracle of the body. By protecting and repairing damage to the cells, they decrease disease and signs of aging. Theoretically, we can just pop a few ‘natural’ antioxidant pills and never have to worry about our destructive lifestyles or environment.
Unfortunately, research is showing that the process of protection and repair and aging is so complicated, that we don’t yet completely understand how to improve on this process with easy supplementation.
The Good News:
- All life forms have created systems to prevent the destructive effects of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are created during the process of turning food into energy, or absorbed in the food we eat or the air we breathe.
- Humans have a very powerful and complicated system to deal with free radicals, which has successfully made us one of the longest living animals on the planet.
- Our body creates its own antioxidants, but we can also ingest them from plants.
- Different parts of the body and different body processes require completely different antioxidants. The body takes care of this.
- Plants can provide hundreds (and maybe thousands) of different kinds of antioxidants. Each one will have more or less of particular antioxidants our particular body needs. Blueberries for example will have different antioxidants than spinach.
The Bad News:
- Most doctors do NOT advise antioxidant supplementation, since the majority of research has NOT verified the promise of a longer life. From the Harvard School for Public Health: “While it’s true that the package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps prevent a variety of chronic diseases, it is unlikely that high doses of antioxidants can accomplish the same feat.”
- A major review of all evidence for the ‘antioxidant hypothesis’ mirrored these ideas. They concluded that the idea that antioxidant supplements can prevent chronic diseases has not been proved or even consistently supported by intervention trials. They suggest further evidence is needed and until that time to increase consumption of plant foods.
- Some research has even shown that antioxidants DECREASE life expectancy! For example, a large trial on the effects of beta-carotene on lung cancer had to be stopped because there was significant increase in lung cancer among participants taking the beta-carotene compared to those taking the placebo.
Are These Scary Conclusions Fair?
If you talk to advocates in the natural health field they shout out ‘foul’ and ‘unfair’. They suggest that original studies done in this field were poorly done, because they used very low grade supplements in these trials such as synthetic vitamin E.
They also suggest that these studies can’t measure quality of life accurately. People don’t take a supplement to last another year or two; they take a supplements to feel better today.
They also suggest that there is much less money put into research of this kind because all the large profits are made in chemical pharmaceuticals instead.
Our Own Use and Finding
At Real Food for Life, we emphasize that the best source of antioxidants is from whole real foods. No one is arguing against that, whether it is doctors, scientists or natural health advocates.
There could be a few reasons for you to look at supplementation:
1. If you already are getting a good variety of whole foods into your diet and want to feel even healthier.
2. You are dealing with a particular health challenge that your research has founds is positively helped with specific antioxidants.
3. You are under such stress environmentally or by lifestyle that table foods are just not enough or workable.
Even if you meet this criterion, it’s still recommended that your supplementation be as close to whole foods as possible and less towards single isolated supplements. There are more and more whole foods supplements available.
Start By Getting To Know Food Better
There are thousands of foods on the planet – each with beneficial health benefits. And guess what? They taste wonderful!
If you became good at just one new healthy recipe a week, in a short time you would have expertise that could last you your whole life.
Written by Randy Fritz, co-creator with Diana Herrington at Real Food For Life. To get super healthy tasty recipes and useful lifestyle tips sent to you once a week, subscribe to my newsletter.