If you do a Google search on “antioxidants,” the following information is what you will find under the top item that comes up, which happens to be a Wikipedia article.
- Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals.
- Free radicals can start chain reactions.
- When the chain reaction occurs in a cell, it can cause damage or death to the cell.
- Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions. (1)
This article further explains the theory of antioxidants, along with the arguments for and against the benefits of these compounds, including the results of clinical, peer-reviewed trials. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, one-third of the articles on the first page of this Google search all cast doubt on the efficacy of antioxidants as well. I don't know about you, but the idea that antioxidants may not be beneficial to human health is news to me. Everything I have ever read about antioxidants extols the myriad of health benefits without even a mention of any potential disadvantages.
In this portion of "The Devil's Advocate on Antioxidants," I will share the laboratory results of antioxidant trials. In the Introduction of this blog series, I introduced the concept that antioxidants may actually be bad for our health, while free radicals may actually be beneficial. Antioxidant supplements, especially synthetic forms of these compounds, may actually be harmful to your health!
The rationale goes like this:
- Antioxidants are substances that naturally occur in very minute quantities in plants and are designed to prevent the oxidation of the essential nutrients as the plant develops. By blocking oxygen (which creates oxidation), antioxidants prevent oxidation, which eventually leads to oxygen-deprivation in the human body, thus causing worse problems than in the first place. (2)
- Contrary to popular marketing, vitamins A, C, D & E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium are NOT antioxidants but rather the NUTRIENTS that are protected from oxidation by antioxidant compounds during the maturation process. Antioxidants are in a class of biologially active substances that are classified as phytochemicals, which have a hormetic effect upon the human body. Hormesis is characterized by substances that have a a beneficial effect upon the body in small quantities, while larger quantities are harmful. An example of this is alcohol: “Use a little wine for your stomach....” (1 Timothy 5:23) vs. “Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit...” (Ephesians 5:18). Wine and grape skins contain the powerful antioxidant resveratrol. A little is good for the heart; a lot is bad and will deprive the heart of oxygen. D-alpha tocopherol has the same effect, while Vitamin E, particularly Vitamin E2, has a positive effect on the heart, relieving agina pain by delivering oxygen to the heart muscl.
- Oxidation is a natural process that occurs in all living things, including mammals, and while it is bad for plants, it is NOT detrimental to animals. Oxidation is what causes fruits and vegetables to brown when they are cut open and exposed to oxygen, much like the rusting of a car when it is left exposed to the elements. If the fats in the germ of wheat were to go rancid, then the wheat would not survive.(3) The formation of free radicals (radical oxygen species [ROS]) through oxidation is actually a PROTECTIVE mechanism for animals and is BENEFICIAL for the death of bacteria through phagocytosis and enables the synthesis of thyroxine. (4, 5)
- Multiple randomized, double-blind, controlled human trials (the “gold standard” for medical studies) from reputable medical schools and journals show that high doses of antioxidants:
- Actually increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and cancers in humans. (6)
- Caused a 68% increase skin cancer in women. For melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, there was a 400% increase among the women taking antioxidant supplements. The Supplementation in Vitamins and Mineral Antioxidants trial recruited 7,876 women ages 35 to 60 and 5,141 men ages 45 to 60. Participants were randomly assigned to take either a daily capsule containing 120 mg of ascorbic acid, 30 mg of vitamin E, 6 mg of beta carotene, 100 mcg of selenium, and 20 mg of zinc or placebo. Participants were followed-up for a median of 7.5 years. The authors had previously reported that supplementation with antioxidants (beta carotene, ascorbic acid, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc) did not reduce cancer incidence, cardiovascular disease, or all cause mortality compared with placebo.(7, 8)
In fact, because of ethics, many of these studies were terminated early due to high mortality rates and the negative side effects of antioxidants on those participating in the trials! Just one more reason to consume a healthy diet, high in nutritional value, but balanced and within moderation. Afterall, do we really think that we can do things better than G-d can by attempting to improve upon His creation and design?
Stay tuned for Part 1B of this series where I will explain the difference between human vs. laboratory trials and why the results related to antioxidants are so contradictory. Then, you will be able to play the “devil's advocate” and make an informed decision that truly ADVOCATES for the health of you and your family.
L'chaim-- To Life!
2 Selene River Press, 2006-2007, “Back to School for Doctors: Antioxidants vs. Natural Vitamin Complexes (the latest peer-reviewed research on the antioxidant- free radical myth,” Dr. Mark Anderson.
6 JAMA, February 28, 2007—Vol 297, No. 8, www.jama.com at University of Wisconsin -Madison.
7The Journal of American Society of Nutrition, 2007, “Antioxidant Supplementation Increases the Risk of Skin Cancers in Women but Not in Men.”
8 Arch Intern Med. 2004; 164: 2335-2342.