Antioxidants – The Evidence is: they don’t work 1


When it comes to  antioxidant supplements I’ve been as guilty as most and have indeed in the past purchased and popped a few of these with the thought in the back of my mind that I was being health. Alas, I was simply fooling myself, the weight of evidence now available suggests that the antioxidant supplements on sale today either do nothing or might even cause harm to your long term health.

So why oh why all the hype and earlier positive reports, how did we all manage to be convinced?

Well Slate has an interesting article on it all, where they explain …

Their story began in the 1940s when a physician-chemist named Denham Harman set out to determine the biochemical explanation for aging. As a young man, he had worked in the lubricating department of Shell—a place where the problems of a chemical spoilage caused by “free radicals” were well-known. By the mid-50s Harman hit upon the theory that the same free radicals that were cutting into petroleum industry profits could also simply and completely explain the phenomenon of aging. Better yet, he said, their effects could be ameliorated by something called antioxidants.

So quickly moving on from that beginning, when it came to evidence, what we did have was the apparently positive measured effects that antioxidants had on cells in culture, and that was enough to spawn all the Antioxidant hype. However, you are a complex system, and inside you the effects are quite different. Studies have been done and so what we now know is that there is not just no measured benefit, but actual harm (assuming of course you are prepared to consider your death to fall within the category of “harm”).

Lets be clear, there are claims that by popping these you will be protected from heart disease, stroke, and cancer – none of those claims are true, studies exist that prove they will fail to protect against all this.

AND … (yes it gets worse) …

popping regular doses of  antioxidants will actually increase your risk of death. Here is a 2007 analysis of research on more than 232,000 people, that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is not just that one study, other studies are telling us the same.

So as you might imagine, I’ve changed my mind and don’t pop Antioxidants anymore, but I’m feeling a bit alone. The Antioxidants industry is still a billion dollar industry, and so quite obviously a heck of a lot of folks out there are still popping these things and slowly working themselves into an early grave. Personally, when presented with the talk-show, health blog hype that equates these to fresh air and sunshine, and the actual evidence that points towards an early death – I’ll pay attention to the evidence.


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One thought on “Antioxidants – The Evidence is: they don’t work

  • Lyttleton

    Well-written post here, I especially appreciate that you actually link to the relevant studies, don’t just vaguely allude to them. So few bloggers/internet writers actually take the time to ‘show their work’ when it comes to these sorts of topics.