Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Science of Antioxidants

Didja see the new study out on vitamins?

CHICAGO - Antioxidant vitamins taken by tens of millions of people around the world won't lead to a longer life, according to an analysis of dozens of studies that adds to evidence questioning the value of the popular supplements. The large review of separate studies on thousands of people found no long-life benefit from vitamins A, E and C and beta carotene and selenium.
See, the idea of antioxidants being good for us makes sense. The antioxidant cleans up free radicals - and free radicals can damage tissue, so.. it would seem reasonable to take antioxidants. It should work to keep us healthy and extend our lives.

Except this study seems to show it doesn't work that way in the complex chemistry of the human body. It's often like that. What looks convincing on paper just doesn't apply in the real world. [Have you guessed where I'm going with this? That's right, this seems to have become a global-warming/William Shatner/sheep blog, and I must hit you over the head with my viewpoint until you cry out, "Lord, make it stop!"] The CO2 greenhouse effect seems to make sense in a computer model but we don't live in a computer model.

Good news today, though: A new UN panel is recommending a global temperature ceiling. So, problem solved. We should to get them to mandate that antioxidants work to extend life too.

One other thing that makes me despair the state of science writing today:
When they eliminated the lower-quality studies and looked only at the most trustworthy ones, they actually found a higher risk of death for people taking vitamins: 4 percent for those taking vitamin E, 7 percent for beta carotene and 16 percent for vitamin A. The actual cause of death in most studies was unknown, however.
Well... ever think that people who are drawn to taking vitamin supplements may suspect (sometimes rightly) that they have a health problem?


sarah k said...

You know, I always thought we all had a 100% risk of death...does this mean that some people (who take vitamins) have a greater than 100% risk or that there are folks out there who have a less than 100% risk of death?
things that make you go hmmmmm...

lumberjack said...

Then there's only 85% dead:

Inigo Montoya: He's dead. He can't talk.
Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What's that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

Anonymous said...

Denmark was behind this analysis of studies (it is not actually a study; it's a review, which is hardly the gold standard of scientific rigor). The news is gathered from a combination of queries, questionnaires, etc. and participants were already diseased and lifelong unhealthy folks. Go to for a great unbiased explanation. I also recommend reading up on Mark Sisson's views over at or simply run a search for antioxidants on Technorati to get to the bottom of this sensationalized fear-mongering. I follow this issue closely and it's almost word-for-word the same article that came out a few months back (and twice last year). Same b.s. studies, too.