Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Antioxidant Truth

You can't really do anything today without hearing the word "Antioxidant".  I have been a big believer in the antioxidant method of wellness and it didn't hurt that some of my favorite treats were on the list...berries, coffee, chocolate and wine.

Imagine my shock at finding out that I have been misinformed.

We have all seen products in the grocery store ranging from supplements to candy claiming high antioxidant content. 

But what does that mean?

"Antioxidants came to public attention in the 1990s...Some studies showed that people with low intakes of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables were at greater risk for developing these chronic conditions than were people who ate plenty of these fruits and vegetables. Clinical trials began testing the impact of single substances, especially beta-carotene and vitamin E, as weapons against heart disease, cancer, and the like." credit: Harvard School of Public Health

So how did the media, and the supplement and food industries react to this news?
"Even before the results of these trials were in, [they] began to hype the benefits of “antioxidants.” Frozen berries, green tea, and other foods labeled as being rich in antioxidants began popping up in stores. Supplement makers touted the disease-fighting properties of all sorts of antioxidants." credit: HSPH

(That's sort of exactly how we should expect them to react.)

So are the corporations lying to us?  Well, kind of.  Certain foods and supplements are higher in antioxidants than others.  They can even rate them according to amount of antioxidants so you can be confident in knowing that the dark chocolate covered pomegranate is kicking butt and taking names.

What is not proven is whether the antioxidants actually affect your body and health one way or the other. 

Yes, you read that right...nobody knows for sure if antioxidants do a blessed thing for your health.  If you look closely at the products on the grocery shelves claiming high antioxidant content you will notice that none of them actually make any sort of health claims  We consumers just connect the two in our minds and buy buy buy. 

Right now are you paying more for specific kinds of juice that claim immense amounts of antioxidant power?  Because if so you are wasting your money.

Well, at least ingesting copious amounts of antioxidants might help...and it can't hurt, right?   'Just in case'.   Not so fast.

"The first inkling came in a large trial of beta-carotene conducted among men in Finland who were heavy smokers, and therefore at high risk for developing lung cancer. The trial was stopped early when researchers saw a significant increase in lung cancer among those taking the supplement compared to those taking the placebo." credit: HSPH 

But "Not all trials of beta-carotene show this harmful effect, however. In the Physicians’ Health Study, which included few active smokers, no increase in lung cancer or any other adverse affect was seen even after 18 years of follow-up." credit: HSPH 

The Bottom Line on Antioxidants and Disease Prevention:

According to the Harvard School of Public Health: " Free radicals contribute to chronic diseases from cancer to heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease to vision loss. This doesn’t automatically mean that substances with antioxidant properties will fix the problem, especially not when they are taken out of their natural context. The studies so far are inconclusive, but generally don’t provide strong evidence that antioxidant supplements have a substantial impact on disease."

So eat healthy, include whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and buy the super juices only if you really love the taste. 

There are ways to provide protection against many of these scourges of aging but, sadly, chocolate and wine are not going to do it.  That's not to say they aren't enjoyable and can contribute vitally to our emotional health. 

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