Some Antioxidant Supplements are a Bust!

April 26, 2008

Some Antioxidant Supplements are a Bust!  In fact, Dangerous! 

 Competency # 15 Vitamins Reference: The Cochrane Collaboration  April 16th, 2008   : 

 Oh dear!  Bad news on antioxidants.  The Cochrane Collaboration is just about the most authoritative summary of literature we have.  The folks in the collaboration take all the available “best” literature, and review the results for authoritative summaries.  

In today’s release, the investigators looked at 232,550 subjects in 67 randomized controlled trials for the beneficial effects of Vitamins A, C, E, and selenium.  These have been the most often referred to antioxidants.  What they found was that beta-carotene, Vit A and E, as opposed to being good for you actually increase your risk of death.  The jury remains out on C and selenium.  Many of the studies were in specific diseases. 

 What we do know is that eating high glycemic foods results in a flood of free oxygen radicals as our liver metabolizes the rush of glucose and fructose. Our modern diet has tons of sugar and white carbohydrates that turn into glucose.  It’s easy to measure a pretty heavy “oxidizing” state after a big meal.  And in many isolated circumstances, you can show that antioxidants gobble up those free radicals and reduce the laboratory measures.  So, it’s very tempting to look at that isolated cause and effect and make the erroneous jump in logic to assuming “taking a pill” will reverse the problem.  Because we eat three big meals a day, our bodies are always in an oxidizing state. 

 The question remains, is your life prolonged?  Our bodies are much more sophisticated than a lab experiment.  The important issue is whether taking extra E, beta-carotene, A, selenium, and C will provide your health for the long haul.  I’ve taken both A and E for about 5-6 years back in the late 90s.   I certainly jumped on board.  The mortality was 13.1% in the antioxidant group, 10.5% in the placebo group.  That’s an absolute risk reduction of 2.6%, or a relative risk reduction of about 20%.  

We’ve had some hints about this and this column has referenced before.  But this is authoritative.  Vit. A beta-carotene and E are not safe for you in the context of general health.  Might they work for specific diseases?  Maybe.  And the jury is still out on selenium and C. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  Whole foods have vitamins in them.  Nuts are loaded with E and Brazil nuts are jam-packed with selenium.  The literature has shown again and again that your supplement should look like something your grandma recognized as a food.  The DASH and OMNI heart diets, the Lyon Diet, the Mediterranean Diet, all succeed massively because of their emphasis on whole foods.  I added an extra scoop of blueberries to my cereal this morning.  (ORAC score for Blueberries 3500 – ORAC score, developed at Tufts by Dr. Joseph is Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity).  And I’ve got my Sam’s Club card to renew so that I can buy my annual 50 pounds of blueberries to last me through the year.  And I threw out all my old Vit. A and E.  Sheepishly.  

The column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)