images2Antioxidants have been widely regarded as being good for health by scientists and nutritionists, as they are supposed to combat free radicals that contribute to cancer, environmental toxins and also help treat many ailments. Antioxidants are supposed to be good for patients with  various cancers, Alzheimer’s, dementia and many other diseases. Latest news questions this premise – perhaps they are not all that they seem to be. What is worse is that perhaps they actually do more harm than good.

 Study debunks the positive effects of antioxidants in lung cancer

A study titled Antioxidants Accelerate Lung Cancer Progression in Mice was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on January 29, 2014. A team of researchers led by Prof Martin Bergo of the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden studied mice that had lung cancer (the mice were injected with tumor cells) divided into two groups. One group was given extra Vitamin E and acetylecysteine, at levels commonly found in multivitamins routinely taken by ordinary people. The other group was given a normal diet without extra antioxidants.

The results were startling – the group of mice that were given the antioxidants developed more aggressive and faster growing tumors compared to the group that were not given antioxidants. The tumors were twice as large and the antioxidant group died three times faster, too.

The researchers then attempted to replicate these results using human lung cancer cells in vitro. The same results were found as human lung cancer cells, too, developed accelerated growth. Apparently, the antioxidants helped the tumor growth by combating the free radicals in the cells. While Prof Bergo said that based on this study people should not stop taking antioxidants, he also said that mice and human lung cancers have many similarities.

Another important aspects is that people with COPD commonly take antioxidants like acetylocysteine as it helps dissolve the mucus, but given the findings of this study, the professor has called for more research on this feature, saying that COPD patients are often smokers and so are at greater risk of developing lung cancer in any case.

Another study throws doubt on the beneficial effects of resveratrol, a natural antioxidant

A diet that includes red wine and plenty of fruits and vegetables like the Mediterranean diet is supposed to be good for health. One of main reasons for this is the presence of resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red grapes and other produce. In a study titled Resveratrol Blunts the Positive Effects of Exercise Training on Cardiovascular Health in Aged Men conducted by Ylva Hellsten, Lasse Gliemann, Jacob Friis Schmidt and others published in the Journal of Physiology on July 22, 2013, showed that taking antioxidants like resveratrol does more harm than good.

While red wine and its antioxidant properties have been widely used for cardiovascular benefits, lowering blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, this study conducted by researchers of the University of Copenhagen shows an opposite effect.

The team studied 27 men around 65 years of age, largely inactive, for eight weeks. They were divided into two groups, one of which received a placebo, while the other received resveratrol (250 mg. daily). All had to perform high intensity exercise during this time. At the end of the test period, tests on blood pressure, lipid concentration and oxygen uptake were checked of both groups. The group that took the placebos showed improved in their health parameters while the group that took resveratrol experienced no such benefits.

Ylva Hellsten, the leader of the research project said, ‘We were surprised to find that resveratrol supplementation in aged men blunts the positive effects of exercise training on cardiovascular health parameters, in part because our results contradict findings in animal studies.’ However, he also injected a note of caution saying that perhaps the high doses of resveratrol may have contributed to the results, saying that such doses are not found via an intake of natural foods.

An earlier study also showed antioxidants do not help with Alzheimer’s

In March 2012, a study titled A Randomized Clinical Trial With Cerebrospinal Fluid Biomarker Measures, a double-blind random study conducted by Douglas R. Galasko, Elaine Peskind and others that was carried out between 2006 and 2008 at 12 centers across the country among elderly patients was published in JAMA. The patients featuring in the study had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and were on medication for the disease. Over a period of 16 weeks one group was given a mixture of antioxidants and vitamins including Vitamin E, Vitamin C, α-lipoic acid and CoQ 3 while the other group was given placebos.

Their cerebrospinal fluid was checked at different times and the data analysis showed that those who took the antioxidants had a faster decline in cognitive function when compared to those who took placebos. Therefore, the antioxidants did not help slow the progression of the disease and in fact worsened it. The study actually said that the worsening was not due progression of the disease, but possibly due to the increased dose of antioxidants.

Their cerebrospinal fluid was checked at different times and the data analysis showed that those who took the antioxidants had a faster decline in cognitive function when compared to those who took placebos. Therefore, the antioxidants did not help slow the progression of the disease and in fact worsened it. The study actually said that the worsening was not due progression of the disease, but possibly due to the increased dose of antioxidants.
What do the medical experts say

Different trials have varied outcomes and trials concerning antioxidants have also not been definitive. It is not a simple matter that if you take a supplement it will not harm you, but may do you some good. You can actually put yourself at greater risk by taking large doses of antioxidants. An article published by the Harvard School of Public Health says, ‘Randomized, placebo-controlled trials—which, when performed well, provide the strongest evidence—offer little support that taking vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, or other single antioxidants provides substantial protection against heart disease, cancer, or other chronic conditions. The results of the largest such trials have been mostly negative.’
The medical fraternity is divided on the issue as some doctors routinely prescribe antioxidants and there are even more people who simply take them on their own as these are not regulated. Current studies that show the ill effects of too much antioxidants should serve as a warning to those who believe that these supplements are a magic bullet against many diseases.
This also brings into focus another problem with pills: usually a natural diet which is balanced and mixed will provide all the nutrients you need. When you take vitamins and pills that are supposed to be good for you, these are made in a refined form and may not provide the same benefits natural foods do and may actually be bad for health.