Anitoxidants in the News Again- What to Do?
In one of the June issues of the very reputable scientific medical journals, The Lancet, a group of investigators found that people with know heart disease given Vitamin E and beta-carotene did not benefit from the treatment. The study methodology involved pooled data from 15 studies that involved 220,000 people. The results showed that the death from all causes and from heart disease was not reduced by the vitamins and supplements.
Frame of Reference
For years it has been believed that free-radicals harm the heart and other organs. This has been shown in numerous laboratory studies and in experimental settings using various tissues and animals. Add to that evidence, there are clear studies that have shown the benefits of eating many foods and vegetables that contain the antioxidant vitamins and minerals. There are even some small human studies that suggest that taking antioxidants such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Carotenoids, and B-Complex Vitamins that showed health benefit in areas such as cancer, vision, stroke and heart disease. For this reason and others most of us take a multi-vitamin every day and some take an additional dose of one of the antioxidants.
Hard to Argue
The data in the Lancet are convincing that in this huge sample of patients that there is no benefit against heart disease, stroke or other causes of death with the antioxidants. Most of the commentary subsequent to the release of this new information has agreed that the widespread use of antioxidants probably isn't useful after all. Some critics of the new information point out that taking the antioxidants might still prevent the onset of heart disease even if they aren't effective in treating the disease after it has started. We'll have to await trials designed to test that.
What to do?
The advice that fruits and vegetables are effective in maintaining health and preventing heart disease are still unchallenged. So eating these foods that contain high levels of antioxidants are healthful. Whether their benefit is the antioxidants or not can be questioned but not the overall value of this diet. There are some non-heart related benefits to the antioxidants such as the reduction of age-related macular degeneration and blindness. A multivitamin a day is still recommended by most physicians, and despite the most recent news it probably is indicated, but don't expect that alone to lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and death from either. This is disappointing to most of us since taking a pill is easier than doing the things we know for sure do prevent heart and other disease like exercising regularly. In the end, this is another situation where promising research in laboratory settings followed by small human studies has proven with greater study to be ineffective - such is sometimes the story in medicine, unfortunately. Fortunately, there are many things (diet, weight, blood pressure, exercise, and lipids) that do prevent death from heart disease and stroke and they have been written here many times before.