The word antioxidant is on the cereal box that I stare at every morning and on pricey juice drinks in the grocery store. Antioxidant supplements are big business in the U.S. with over $65 billion in sales last year.
In animal and laboratory studies, it appears that antioxidants do slow down and even prevent some cancers. In humans, the studies are contradictory and not very encouraging.
Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals, those molecules that your body makes when it breaks down food or when the body is exposed to cigarette smoke or radiation. Free radicals can damage cells and this may lead to cancer.
In 2012, the Cochrane Review (a group of scientists who don't have a financial interest in the outcomes of the studies they review) concluded, "There is no evidence to support antioxidant supplements to prevent mortality in healthy people or in patients with various diseases. Antioxidant supplements should be considered medical products and undergo evaluation before marketing."
1) Antioxidants are important to human health and should be consumed in a diet with fruits and vegetables that have a variety of colors: from red, orange, and yellow to blue and green. Beans, nuts and whole grains are also good sources of antioxidants. These foods should be a significant portion of your diet.
2) Ignore the marketing hype for prepared food products with added antioxidants and antioxidant supplements.
3) Avoid taking antioxidant supplements! Regular consumption of vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements have been associated with increased deaths.
Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 38 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.