Recent Scientific American publication on dangers of taking antioxidant supplements is discouraging yet questionable. The publication is written around free radical damage theory of aging and voices concerns regarding opposite effects of antioxidants on health. While it was an interesting read for me, especially because I do take some supplements and even wrote an article on antioxidants before, I ‘ve noted some flaws with this article.
1. It concentrates on free radical theory of aging – proving it to be wrong. But there are other, much more plausible, theories of aging such as: evolutionary theory, telomere theory, DNA damage causing cell apoptosis, mitochondria damage theory, etc. You don’t have to be genious to figure out that feeding someone high doses of antioxidants will not prevent cell apoptosis due to DNA damage for example. Many nutrients posses antioxidant qualities while also playing a role elsewhere in body, turmeric is mostly used as anti-inflammatory aid, but it is also an antioxidant. There are studies that show that vitamins E and C aid skin cell regeneration, reducing wrinkle, scarring, age spots, etc. In one study, vitamin E and C was administed to UV irradiated mice, resulting in sucessfull skin regeneration and reducing wrinkles. It also yelded positive results in skin cancer incidents. This shows that it’s not about avoiding certain antioxidants, but how much to take and in what circumstances.
2. The only antioxidants they mention in this publication are vitamins A (both retinol and beta-carotene), C and E and Superoxide Dismutase. So as far as I understand, every time they use the word “antioxidants” they refer to those four. What about the rest? Does that mean Selenium, Alpha Lipoic Acis, Glutathione, carotenoids and flavonoids cause negative effect on health too? Do they mean that all antioxidants that we take as a supplements are bad or only those four?
3. This brings me to another point. The article says that test subjects that were fed healthy diet full of antioxidants did live longer and they also confirmed that people that eat plenty or antioxidant high foods live longer and healthier lives. Yet the life span decreased in test subjects that has been fed artificial antioxidants. Perhaps this shows that high doses of artificial antioxidants are the problem and not antioxidants as a whole?
4. Most studies have been done on round worms and genetically modified lab rats/mice. We really need more human studies. They did mention human study of vitamin A on smokers, showing that it in fact increase the risk of cancer, but this is old news. We know that smokers, pregnant women and women on contraception pill should not take vitamin A. Not in retinol form at least. Again, what about the rest of antioxidants?
We only just began to understand how our body works and what happens to it at certain stages of life cycle and we need much more research into cell regeneration, DNA repair, mitochondrial support, etc. I always was in favour of good diet and exercise over the pill popping, but I do take some supplements and this article made me look at my Selenium bottle with skepticism. To take or not to take? That is the question now.