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    Antioxidants Don't Work But No One Wants To Hear It
    By Hank Campbell | August 3rd 2011 04:33 PM | 14 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    I wrote an article talking about the spate of "X is awesome" and "Y is bad for you" articles that came out every year and even had a little quiz asking people if they could identify what superfood and/or remedy was popular in years I had edited out for brevity.

    So if you were on a sugar diet, or a red wine diet or an acai berry diet, I know what year you read health magazines.   

    Some skepticism is warranted - you will find any number of studies here correlating antioxidants to health benefits.(1)  There's just one problem - there isn't any actual evidence antioxidants help you at all.

    Writes Kent Sepkowitz at Slate:
    But, hey, who ever let a little evidence stand in the way of a good time? Especially in this case, when the charge toward lifestyle legitimacy has been led by willowy celebrities with karmic equipoise, ably supported by the Four Horsemen of the Alternative: Drs. Weil, Oz, Null, and Chopra. 
    When a huge marketing machine gets behind anything where the research is optimistic but unproven, you need to reach for your wallet (that goes for any area - ethanol, health food, jobs saved or created under a stimulus package, etc.).

    Antioxidants have always been around, of course - you are all smart enough to break apart than word into "anti" and "oxidant" and see that means they are a preservative.   Who knew health food types would argue for more preservatives in your diet?

    Denialism is not just progressives who insist GMOs are evil or conservatives that insist pollution is not bad for us, it is also insisting on something positive despite any proof. Even the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine doesn't endorse antioxidants and they are reliant on money from the $23 billion supplement marketing juggernaut who says they are awesome so even staying neutral is dangerous for them.

    Yes, yes, by noting there has been no actual benefit shown to antioxidants, and studies showing risk(2), I am going to be called a shill for Big Pharm.  But that's okay, every week I get called anti-something or pro-something for actually looking critically at stuff, even if Deepak Chopra is more famous than me and therefore must be right.


    NOTES:

    (1) Heck, somewhere out there someone has correlated second-hand smoke to causing war in Iraq.   We are here to talk about studies, not to endorse them as being right.  And we only go after them as being wrong when they are clearly wrong.   

    (2) Goran Bjelakovic, MD, DrMedSci; Dimitrinka Nikolova, MA; Lise Lotte Gluud, MD, DrMedSci; Rosa G. Simonetti, MD; Christian Gluud, MD, DrMedSci, 'Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements for Primary and Secondary Prevention', JAMA. 2007;297(8):842-857. doi: 10.1001/jama.297.8.842

    Comments

    Hank
    It's rare I get jealous of someone else's stuff but "Four Horsemen of the Alternative" referring to Chopra, Oz, etc. is just brilliant.
    ...
    Yes, yes, by noting there has been no actual benefit shown to antioxidants, and studies showing risk(2), I am going to be called a shill for Big Pharm.
    ...

    Not by me at least. I can cite many problems with Big Pharma but the unassailable truth is that Big Pharma has provided products that have saved millions of lives. Big Alternative has next to no evidence it has saved any lives. Big Alternative(the appellation is justified, look at the money being made) is a huge money spinner that relies on naive and scared souls reaching out for solutions to save them from the Big C or whatever. I can even conceive of the possibility that high antioxidant dosing helps nascent some tumours survive. What most people don't seem to realise is that most oxidation events in our body are a result of the electron transport chain, not contaminants. To that end any antioxidant strategy should primarily focus on supporting and\or enhancing our intrinsic antioxidant defences(SODS, gluathione, catalase). The most lasting valuable contribution of Big Alternative is that it has encouraged people to take responsibility for their health, to focus on prevention instead of relying on modern medicine to address health issues arising from their bad choices, to encourage a better understanding of nutrition; ironically the latter is best achieved by not listening to Big Alternative. It most certainly has not provided any products that can save millions of lives.

    Deepak Chopra! I refer to him as Deep Pork Chops. I despise what he has done.

    In the chemical industry vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is used to PRODUCE free radicals for polymerisation ( with the help of persulphates, etc.), not mop them up as claimed by the health industry!

    However the health benefits of avoiding vitamin C have been tested many times on long sea journeys - they were severely negative, leading to scurvy.

    Mike

    lol
    I like the four horsemen bit too.

    Methinks a big part of the problem is the gullibility of the common buyer. A good advertising program can not only sell the product but make the gullible believe that they made the right choice even if they don't feel any better after using the product. There aren't enough debunkers to go around and they usually don't have the capital to get the message out where it would do the most good.

    Disclosure: For a few years I owned a website selling diet pills. Total cost per bottle before shipping == $0.47. Sales price == $19.95. The pills contained nothing that would harm a healthy person. They also could not be shown to cause a person to lose weight. Advertising done well makes a huge difference.

    Oliver Knevitt
    From a scientific point of view, based on what we know about biochemistry, extra antioxidants are one of those things that it seems intuitively should be good for you. But, the fact that they just aren't stems from a fundamental disconnect in the way we understand the body. Just because a chemical seems to be good for you, "topping up" or "boosting" by intaking more by eating more of the chemical doesn't necessarily mean that it will translate, either to higher concentrations in the body, or indeed, to increased benefit by higher concentrations anyway. Vitamin C switches actually switches to a pro-oxidant in certain chemical environments. It's all based on a rather simplistic view of the body, assuming it's like a machine, whereby adding extra lubricant to joints can only be a good thing.
    Hank
    That's the perfect analogy.  The guy behind the original antioxidant research worked at Shell Oil - in the lubricating department - where free radicals were a concern.  
    UvaE
    Just because a chemical seems to be good for you, "topping up" or "boosting" by intaking more by eating more of the chemical doesn't necessarily mean that it will translate, either to higher concentrations in the body, or indeed, to increased benefit by higher concentrations anyway.
    Well put.

    A few months ago I wrote about the intuitive hunch which in reality does not pan out in Myths about Ripe Grapes and ...:

    In the test tube, anthocyanins do act as those sacrificial lambs known as “antioxidants”, but once they’re ingested by humans, there’s no evidence suggesting antioxidants will actually make people healthier.

    On the basis of the data presented, the Panel (EFSA 2010 study) concludes that a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of the food(s)/food constituent(s) evaluated in this opinion and a beneficial physiological effect related to antioxidant activity, antioxidant content, or antioxidant properties.  
    deepak pwns you.

    I kid I kid

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I have been taking antioxidants for 30 years and would definitely stop taking them if I could find any evidence that they are doing me any harm, but this study doesn't convince me at all, so I'll keep taking them. This is a pretty huge study making some pretty huge claims that antioxidants may cause death but have you actually read the tables 3 and table 4 showing all of the many primary and secondary studies that they included in the analysis? This study is almost a prime example taken from the book 'how to lie with statistics'. 

    No wonder the outcome was often death in this study on the effects of taking antioxidants, many of the primary studies were actually done on elderly people and male cigarette smokers etc. The secondary studies were all of people who had already had illnesses and diseases for which they had been medically diagnosed and/or treated (including ALS or MND and cirhosis of the liver for example, both of which are virtually untreatable and have very poor prognoses) they were then given antioxidants or a placebo. The death outcome in these cases was more likely a reflection of the effectiveness their medical treatment, the likely outcome of their disease, their age or their risk-taking pastimes rather than the effectiveness of their antioxidants. The study says that they :-
    Included all primary and secondary prevention trials in adults randomized to receive beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, or selenium vs placebo or no intervention. Parallel-group randomized trials and the first period of crossover randomized trials were included.
    17 Trials including general or healthy populations were classified as primary prevention. Trials including participants with specific disease were classified as secondary prevention. Twenty-one trials were primary prevention trials including 164 439 healthy participants; 47 trials were secondary prevention trials including 68 167 participants with gastrointestinal (n=11), cardiovascular (n=9), neurological (n=6), ocular (n=5), dermatological (n=5), rheumatoid (n=2), renal and cardiovascular (n=1), endocrinological (n=1), or unspecified (n=7) diseases. Main outcome measures in the primary prevention trials were cancer and mortality (cause specific and all cause), and in the secondary prevention trials they were progression of disease and mortality (cause specific and all cause; Table 3 and Table 4).
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Hank
    I have been taking antioxidants for 30 years and would definitely stop taking them if I could find any evidence that they are doing me any harm,
    Likewise, I intend to worship squirrels I buy in health food stores using the same rationale.  If it doesn't do me any harm, I must not be wasting money.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    OK, its only anecdotal but they make me feel good and repeatedly people seem to think I'm a lot younger than I am, unless its all a big conspiracy to dupe me into thinking they do, so maybe the antioxidants are working? Have you read this wonderful article explaining how antioxidants supposedly do work to combat free-radicals, it makes sooo much sense, even if there is no evidence! 

    About an hour ago, I came across some weird article proving that antioxidants definitely combat free-radicals and aid healing in some poor little mice who's front legs were amputated for the experiment and who were bombarded with toxins and free-radicals, but now I've lost it. So I will go on a quest to try to find some evidence that antioxidants have been proven to be good for some animals, anything rather than do the counselling assignment that I should be doing :) Unless you don't want me to? BTW how much do squirrels cost and do they enjoy being worshipped by you? Lucky squirrels.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Gerhard Adam
    This, they postulate, shows that free radicals are by no means the toxic particles that had been assumed.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3485508.stm

    Indeed, antioxidants such has vitamin C and beta carotene have been shown to fuel cancer growth, and selenium can be toxic. Conversely, there is no evidence that high doses of antioxidants help the body in any way - except (a big maybe here) vitamin E.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/nov/26/science.highereducation

    BTW, Hanks just having fun with you.  Everyone knows squirrels hate being worshiped.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Oliver Knevitt
    but they make me feel good and repeatedly people seem to think I'm a lot younger than I am, unless its all a big conspiracy to dupe me into thinking they do, so maybe the antioxidants are working?
    ...hit the nail on the head there, Helen! I wouldn't go so far to say conspiracy, but certainly the fact that you think they're going to work and other people are telling you they work will certainly do the trick.



    Re that article: of course it would make perfect sense if antioxidants did work, because it fits with everything we understand about biochemistry and the toxicity of oxygen. But they just don't, and that's the whole point.

    And, incidentally, I'm inclined not to trust medical advice from any website with a disclaimer
    You agree to accept full personal responsibility for any actions or outcomes that may occur if you use any of the materials you find on our website. By clicking the "I Accept" button, you are agreeing not to hold Chiro.Org, its volunteer webmasters, contributors, or Board members liable for anything you might find or use while accessing this internet web site.
    (but then again I shouldn't be so damning about chiropractors, otherwise they might sue the arse off of me).
    For decades, as a biochemist, I have reseached oxygen free radicals and antioxidants. Please visit www.amazon.com to see my seven books on this subject, including Death In Small Doses, Antioxidant Overkill, Dangers of Excessive Antioxidants in Cancer Patients, Antioxidants Failures and Dangers, Heart Disease and Antioxiant Failures, and Anti-aging Anti-oxidant scams. Also, I published Citation: R. Howes: Mythology of Antioxidant Vitamins?. The Journal of Evidence-Based Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. April, 2011. 16(2): 149-189.

    Citation: R. Howes: Cancer Therapy: A Review with Scientific Validation for the Role of Electronically Modified Oxygen Derivatives in Oncologic Treatment Modalities. The Internet Journal of Alternative Medicine. 2010 Volume 8 Number 1.

    Citation: R. Howes: Hydrogen Peroxide: A review of a scientifically verifiable omnipresent ubiquitous essentiality of obligate, aerobic, carbon-based life forms. The Internet Journal of Plastic Surgery. 2010 Volume 7 Number 1.
    Howes, R.M.: “The Free Radical Fantasy,” The Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 2006, Vol. 1067, pp. 22-26.
    Antioxidants are all about marketing and not about science. Our most crucial biochemical pathways are dependent upon oxidation, such as protection against pathogens and cancer, energy production, Actually, the free radical theory is testable and it has repeatedly failed to have predictability and thus fails the scientific method. It is invalidated and nullified.
    The area of oxidation/reduction (redox) chemistry is filled with misinformation and outright lies. Please rely on scientifically based evidence. Even Dr. Harman acknowledges that excess antioxidant will cause fatigue and tiredness because it block energy (ATP) production. Blocking oxygen free radicals allows for infections and cancer (neoplasia) development.
    Please make wise and safe choices but first educate yourself. I had the publisher keep my books priced very low so I can get the word out about the dangers of antioxidants.