Biology / Cancer

The antioxidant paradox: supplements could be doing you more harm than good

Medical Drugs for Pharmacy Health Shop of Medicine

Don’t swallow that pill: antioxidant supplements can be more harm than good (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Supermarkets are full of products that market themselves as superfoods and spruik their antioxidant content, but are antioxidants as healthy as we’ve been led to believe?

Ever since large observational studies linked antioxidant-rich diets with good health, taking antioxidant supplements has seemed like a healthy way of boosting our antioxidant intake. But rigorous ransomised controlled trials of antioxidant supplementation gives us pause for thought. It turns out that antioxidant supplements don’t fight the ravaging effects of free radicals in our body. In fact, supplements containing beta-carotene and vitamin E can actually worsen our health prognosis and decrease the benefit we get from clearly healthy activities like exercise.

One of the clearest illustrations of the negative effects of antioxidant supplementation comes from a Finnish study that looked at beta-carotene supplementation in smokers. Over 29,000 men were followed for five to eight years, and those given beta-carotene were more likely to develop lung cancer than those on the placebo.

Last week, I wrote an article for ABC Health and Wellbeing, explaining what antioxidants and free radicals are, and what the evidence is on their health effects. Check it out here.

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