Antioxidant Supplements Can Kill You?

The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) has shown that over the course of a six year study, the use of antioxidant supplements could reduce the risk associated with having age-related macular degneration progress into the advances stages of the disease by as much as 25 percent.  Antioxidants have been touted in recent years as a major tool to help the body combat free radicals (the byproducts of normal cell activity) and perhaps ward off some diseases such as what was shown in the Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS).  In fact it was the findings of AREDS that lead to antioxidants being generally recommended as the only course of treatment for patients diagnosed with age related macular degeneration (AMD).  However, new research released by the Cochrane Collaboration calls the benefits of antioxidants into question.

In a report recently published by the Cochrane Collaboration, it was shown that antioxidant supplements do not extend a persons life, but in fact, some antioxidants (Vitamin A, Vitamin E and beta-carotene) may lessen a persons life.  This report was  released after the Cochrane Collaboration had evaluated 67 randomized controlled studies involving antioxidant supplements.

In the evaluation,  the Cochrane Collaboration had pooled the results of 67 studies that had involved over 230,000 participants that were either taking antioxidant supplements or a placebo.  Of the 67 studies, 21 involved healthy people and 46 involved participants with various health conditions.  The conclusion that was made indicated that antioxidant supplements did not reduce the risk of dying in either healthy or sick participants.  In fact, it was shown that Vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene were linked to an increased risk of dying (16, 7 and 4% for each supplement).

The Cochrane Collaboration speculated in the report that the introduction of antioxidant supplements possibly interferes with the body’s ability to fight disease.  This therefore makes people more susceptible to their ailments, thus lessing their lives.

This study comes on the back of several other well publicized studies that also showed that antioxidants may pose a health risk to people.  One study showed that male smokers who were taking beta-carotene were at a significantly higher risk to contract lung cancer.  In 2005, the American Medical Association released a report that indicated that vitamin E tablets were linked to a great risk of heart failure.  However, one must not forget that the benefits of antioxidant treatments was clearly established in the AREDS study that showed that antioxidants could reduce and slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by as much as 25 percent.

Critics of the Cochrane Collaboration study have indicated that the premise for the study was flawed and that a majority of the studies evaluated by the group included people already diagnosed with a variety of illnesses.

Regardless of this, what is significant in the Cochrane Collaboration report is that this should clearly signal that there is no “magic fix” or “one-stop” cure for disease.  The human body is to be respected and while there are some obvious benefits obtained from moderate uses of antioxidants, basic health has to begin with a healthy lifestyle that includes a proper diet and exercise.  Nutritional supplements should never be a substitute for healthy living.

As well, if you suspect something is wrong or would like advice as to which supplements may be appropriate for you, it is important to consult a physician.