Scientific American - Good article on Antioxidants

I’m not sure how many of you subscribe to or have access to Scientific American but the Jan 2013 edition has a great article on antioxidants tracing the history of the antioxidant theory as well as the current state of the evidence. The accumulated data shows a net harm from the use of antioxidants but one would never know that if your only source is the lay media or the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately its not available online without a subscription but its well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy. They do a good job of showing how a reasonable theory can get a life of its own even after solid scientific evidence shows it to be full of holes.
I’ve been trying to educate patients on this issue for a while and its interesting how much push back I get. The benefits of antioxidants are assumed to be medical canon by a large portion of the public and patients often consider my comments to be heresy at first. Its amazing how much time and effort it takes to deprogram them. If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media. I could lock the channel on in the waiting room and it would save me a lot of time.

Damn, there go my blueberries and evening glass of red wine. :lol:
Occam

I think the one time I saw Oz on TV he mentioned something about blueberries, but I wasn’t paying much attention. I was mesmerized by his good looks.

I just read this from the mag. “Men’s Health”. Man, I thought we were on to something there but I guess not. I was eating three servings of fruit anyway including grapes. Hell, I’ll keep eating them because I like fruit. Why not. Ok, I take that back; I hate prunes!! Yuch!
http://www.menshealth.com/mhlists/antioxidant_facts/index.php
Cap’t Jack

We are not saying people should stop eating fruits and vegetables. There is good evidence that consuming these items is helpful. What the evidence is saying is that antioxidants themselves are not helpful and may in fact be harmful in some circumstances. There are many other reasons why a diet higher in fruits and vegetables may be good for us. Antioxidants are clearly no the whole story and may not even be a part of it.
As far as Men’s Health Magazine goes, I would not use it as a guide to good health. Its no better than the Ladies Home Journal and and similar pubications. We actually have a free subscription in our office. Its been coming for years. I read a the first few issues as I do with all magazines before allowing them in the waiting room and every issue since then has gone right in the trash.

Yes, the evidence has been building for some time that the antioxidant theory was hype and that antioxidant supplements either did nothing (e.g. resveratrol) or could be actively harmful (Vitamin E in smokers and prostate cancer, Vitamin C in chemotherapy patients). Nice to see this hitting the mainstream press. Still eating lots of fruits and veggies myself, but not jumping on the supplement bandwagon.

the Vitamin E in prostate cancer has actually been a good teaching moment that I often use to explain to patients why they should not be checking their Vitamin D levels and taking huge supplements to get into the normal range. The Vitamin E story is a good parallel. 20 years ago when all we had were retrospective studies lots of men started taking vitamin E to reduce their risk of prostate cancer. Now that we have good prospective double blind studies it is clear that Vit E actually increases the risk of prostate cancer.
Vit D is in much the same position today. There are lots of claims based on retrospective studies and not a single double blind prospective study showing any benefit, yet patients and even doctors are recommending a course of action ( checking their levels and if they are low they are taking up to 50,000 units of Vit D daily) that is not based on any good science at all. We may well find out in years to come that this caused more harm than good.

As far as Men’s Health Magazine goes, I would not use it as a guide to good health. Its no better than the Ladies Home Journal and and similar pubications. We actually have a free subscription in our office. Its been coming for years. I read a the first few issues as I do with all magazines before allowing them in the waiting room and every issue since then has gone right in the trash.
Actually, I don't read the mag and never have, I just used the article (which I did read) to illustrate the antioxident myth. What I wonder is what role genetics plays in how healthy we stay in our, and I hesitate to use the term, declining years. I know a lot depends on how we treated our bods when we were stupid young adults believing in our own immortality, but does our longevity depend mainly on our genetic backgrounds? And as to supplements, my doc said no, just eat a healthy diet, exercise and stay involved in life. Well, two out of three for me. But as soon as the weather breaks, back on the bike. Cap't Jack

Interesting - I haven’t gotten to that article yet although I do enjoy me a good Scientific American read from time to time.
Although, I never have gone out of my way to get extra antioxidants, I had thought there was something to 'em. :-/
Because there’s so much crap information out there, this is why it often pays to be conservative. There’s no way to double-check the veracity of every bit of new information.

I'm not sure how many of you subscribe to or have access to Scientific American but the Jan 2013 edition has a great article on antioxidants tracing the history of the antioxidant theory as well as the current state of the evidence. The accumulated data shows a net harm from the use of antioxidants but one would never know that if your only source is the lay media or the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately its not available online without a subscription but its well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy. They do a good job of showing how a reasonable theory can get a life of its own even after solid scientific evidence shows it to be full of holes. I've been trying to educate patients on this issue for a while and its interesting how much push back I get. The benefits of antioxidants are assumed to be medical canon by a large portion of the public and patients often consider my comments to be heresy at first. Its amazing how much time and effort it takes to deprogram them. If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media. I could lock the channel on in the waiting room and it would save me a lot of time.
Interesting. i'm usually skeptical of popular medical claims. What's the word on fish oil supplements? Friends swear by them.

I’m just plain anti supplement for healthy people. Don’t take them, never have. Nor have I ever given any to my children. I just encourage well rounded diets.

If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media.
How about just the bloody adverts? That's not the whole of the problem, but it would be a good start.
If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media. How about just the bloody adverts? That’s not the whole of the problem, but it would be a good start.
Yeah, they could list the endless disclaimers you hear on the TV when pitching the most recent cure all drug. Just listening to them scares the crap out of me. Who would take any of these nostrums with such potentially lethal side effects? "Don't take blah blah if you're ... ." no wonder people like homeopathic drugs; they have no side effects! Cap't Jack
I'm not sure how many of you subscribe to or have access to Scientific American but the Jan 2013 edition has a great article on antioxidants tracing the history of the antioxidant theory as well as the current state of the evidence. The accumulated data shows a net harm from the use of antioxidants but one would never know that if your only source is the lay media or the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately its not available online without a subscription but its well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy. They do a good job of showing how a reasonable theory can get a life of its own even after solid scientific evidence shows it to be full of holes. I've been trying to educate patients on this issue for a while and its interesting how much push back I get. The benefits of antioxidants are assumed to be medical canon by a large portion of the public and patients often consider my comments to be heresy at first. Its amazing how much time and effort it takes to deprogram them. If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media. I could lock the channel on in the waiting room and it would save me a lot of time.
Interesting. i'm usually skeptical of popular medical claims. What's the word on fish oil supplements? Friends swear by them. It all depends on what your friend is swearing about. Fish oil is another example of a small bit of truth begin blown way out of proportion. Among the retired population it is spoken of as though it were the fountain of youth. Fish Oil may be associated with a reduction in cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack ( This is a good review article] if you are interested) although most experts still recommend getting the necessary fish oil by actually eating fish rather than consuming supplements. The main reason a lot of people take fish oil these days is for joint pains. While there is some evidence that omega 3 fish oils may be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis there is no good evidence that it helps for osteoarthritis which is the type of arthritis that most people actually have. These are two entirely different diseases with very different mechanisms so there is no reason to suspect that a treatment would work for one just because it works for the other. in the case of Fish oil the studies seem to show just that. The fact that a supplement does not work for a particular disease never stops people form swearing by them though. Glucosamine has been shown conclusively to be no better than placebo in treating osteoarthritis and yet I see patients swear by it all the time. Edit: Addendum: I meant to include a more recent reference regarding the use of Omega 3's in cardiovascular disease. unfortunately many recent articles are only available in abstract form but just to include one that is less than 10 years old you may want to read this brief abstract].
I'm just plain anti supplement for healthy people. Don't take them, never have. Nor have I ever given any to my children. I just encourage well rounded diets.
Perfect advice. Its amazing that with such a paucity of evidence people are willing to spend billions for useless supplements yet it is so difficult to get them to eat a healthy diet which is much less expensive and far likelier to keep them healthy. Obviously its not a mystery. Its much easier to pop a pill that washes away the guilt of eating that piece of chocolate cake but sadly it doesn't work that way.

Quoting Macgyver:

Vitamin E in prostate cancer has actually been a good teaching moment
. Hey, I take a vitamin E pill about once a week (I bought a bottle years ago, and I refuse to throw it out and waste money), and I just had my latest PSA run. It was 0.16 which is extremely low. See, more alternative medicine reasoning. :slight_smile:
Of course I also had my prostate radiated years ago, and it’s so small the urologist can hardly feel it. :lol:
Occam

I’m not sure how many of you subscribe to or have access to Scientific American but the Jan 2013 edition has a great article on antioxidants tracing the history of the antioxidant theory as well as the current state of the evidence. The accumulated data shows a net harm from the use of antioxidants but one would never know that if your only source is the lay media or the Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately its not available online without a subscription but its well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy. They do a good job of showing how a reasonable theory can get a life of its own even after solid scientific evidence shows it to be full of holes.
I’ve been trying to educate patients on this issue for a while and its interesting how much push back I get. The benefits of antioxidants are assumed to be medical canon by a large portion of the public and patients often consider my comments to be heresy at first. Its amazing how much time and effort it takes to deprogram them. If only there were a TV channel devoted to dispelling all the pseudoscience put out by the rest of the media. I could lock the channel on in the waiting room and it would save me a lot of time.

Interesting. i’m usually skeptical of popular medical claims. What’s the word on fish oil supplements? Friends swear by them.
It all depends on what your friend is swearing about. Fish oil is another example of a small bit of truth begin blown way out of proportion. Among the retired population it is spoken of as though it were the fountain of youth. Fish Oil may be associated with a reduction in cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack ( This is a good review article] if you are interested) although most experts still recommend getting the necessary fish oil by actually eating fish rather than consuming supplements.
The main reason a lot of people take fish oil these days is for joint pains. While there is some evidence that omega 3 fish oils may be helpful for rheumatoid arthritis there is no good evidence that it helps for osteoarthritis which is the type of arthritis that most people actually have. These are two entirely different diseases with very different mechanisms so there is no reason to suspect that a treatment would work for one just because it works for the other. in the case of Fish oil the studies seem to show just that.
The fact that a supplement does not work for a particular disease never stops people form swearing by them though. Glucosamine has been shown conclusively to be no better than placebo in treating osteoarthritis and yet I see patients swear by it all the time.
Edit: Addendum: I meant to include a more recent reference regarding the use of Omega 3’s in cardiovascular disease. unfortunately many recent articles are only available in abstract form but just to include one that is less than 10 years old you may want to read this brief abstract].

Thanks for the valuable information. You wondered what my friends were swearing about. That’s a good question. I don’t think they said amything specific as to the benefits they experience but have bought into the idea that it is good for the heart and prevents heart attacks and strokes. They take them and “swear by them” because they are sure the supplements are doing what they are purported to do. i guess that’s where the problem lies when it comes to supplements.

Thanks for the valuable information. You wondered what my friends were swearing about. That's a good question. I don't think they said amything specific as to the benefits they experience but have bought into the idea that it is good for the heart and prevents heart attacks and strokes. They take them and "swear by them" because they are sure the supplements are doing what they are purported to do. i guess that's where the problem lies when it comes to supplements.
Yes that is a big part of the problem. If they take fish oil supplements and they don't have a heart attack they see that as proof that its working or if they do have one then its proof that it doesn't work. People tend to see things in a very black and white way and have a difficult time understanding probability. If you say there is only a 1% chance of something happening and then it happens the conclusion is that you were wrong when we all know that's not what a 1% chance means. Most medical interventions, whether its fish oil or statins only modify risk they don't eliminate it. The jury is still out on how much Omega 3's help reduce cardiovascular disease and in what patients they are appropriate. They may only be of benefit in the highest risk patients, but even if they are helpful at reducing risk a few percentage points, the take on that by the lay person is that if you take fish oil then you shouldn't have a heart attack. There is a real problem trying to convey risk and probability to the average person. There was actually a very good podcast on the subject of trying to communicate risk to the public. It was the Dec 2nd podcast of Rationally Speaking regretfully titled "When Scientists Kill" about the trial of 6 Italian scientists who were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in jail after they downplayed the risk of an earthquake which eventually occurred and killed several hundred people. Its an interesting discussion if you have the time to listen.
Thanks for the valuable information. You wondered what my friends were swearing about. That's a good question. I don't think they said amything specific as to the benefits they experience but have bought into the idea that it is good for the heart and prevents heart attacks and strokes. They take them and "swear by them" because they are sure the supplements are doing what they are purported to do. i guess that's where the problem lies when it comes to supplements.
Yes that is a big part of the problem. If they take fish oil supplements and they don't have a heart attack they see that as proof that its working or if they do have one then its proof that it doesn't work. People tend to see things in a very black and white way and have a difficult time understanding probability. If you say there is only a 1% chance of something happening and then it happens the conclusion is that you were wrong when we all know that's not what a 1% chance means. Most medical interventions, whether its fish oil or statins only modify risk they don't eliminate it. The jury is still out on how much Omega 3's help reduce cardiovascular disease and in what patients they are appropriate. They may only be of benefit in the highest risk patients, but even if they are helpful at reducing risk a few percentage points, the take on that by the lay person is that if you take fish oil then you shouldn't have a heart attack. There is a real problem trying to convey risk and probability to the average person. There was actually a very good podcast on the subject of trying to communicate risk to the public. It was the Dec 2nd podcast of Rationally Speaking regretfully titled "When Scientists Kill" about the trial of 6 Italian scientists who were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in jail after they downplayed the risk of an earthquake which eventually occurred and killed several hundred people. Its an interesting discussion if you have the time to listen. Thanks, I listen to Rationally Speaking podcasts when I can. I must have missed that one. I'll look for it.

I don’t know. My older son is studying to be a massage therapist- sports medicine. There are two categories of study- sports medicine and spa. Anyway, and I know this may sound like a poster child story but since I had the flu, which quickly went into pneumonia two years ago, there was this thing about vitamin D and respiratory infections (lack of it allegedly makes on susceptible to respiratory infections). Anyway, I talked to my dr about my son’s encouragement to take supplements and gave her a list of various ones he suggested- D3, Echinacea with Golden Seal, C, Flaxseed oil (not for the immune system, but something else), zinc… Nothing really exotic or out of the ordinary like St. John’s Wart or whatever. She said, “It can’t hurt” and agreed I maybe lacking in some vitamins such as D3 (a blood test could have told her if I was lacking vitamin D, from what I understand, but may cost more money than a bottle of D3 and I’m also a lactose vegetarian). I’ve been on the regime for 2 winters now and the last few months I’ve been staying with friends. They caught the flu or some sort of respiratory virus 3 times since I came to stay with them in October and eventually I got it (or one of the strands of the flu they have had this year). I continued the regime even while my illness was at it’s height and in less than 7 days I started recovering without getting pneumonia again, while my friends have been fighting it and trying to get over it for more than 2 weeks. Keep in mind, I’m allergic to eggs and cannot take the flu vaccine. They never got vaccinated for whatever reason unknown to me. I’ve also been under a lot of stress lately, which allegedly can lower the immune system, thereby making me potentially more acceptable to certain illnesses, such as the flu, but I’ve faired better, even in the same house with people who’ve been fighting respiratory viruses all this winter.
This quicker recovery time compared to my friends made me ask myself some questions: 1. Did we have the same virus and if so, was it the alleged immune building vitamins, minerals, and herbs (D3, C, zinc, Echinacea with Golden Seal) that helped my immune system when I was potentially lacking some vitamins a couple years ago? If so, this means my friends could use more vitamin C, D3 and zinc. 2. Then again, despite living in the same house, I might have had a different respiratory virus than they have, even though we had the same symptoms and the regime of vitamins, minerals, and herbs had nothing to do with it. If so, what has kept me from getting the viruses they’ve had? 3. Maybe I had this particular virus before and because of that, my body fought it easier and I got a milder version of it OR I’ve had 2 of the 3 rounds of flu my friends acquired of the recent strands and the body builds immunity to certain flu viruses (not sure if that one is possible with flu viruses though, because we aren’t talking Smallpox v Cowpox here, Chickenpox, or Mumps). 4. Maybe it was just a coincidence and I just got lucky this year. Even so, something has kept me from getting what they’ve had and even kept me from getting this last round as bad as they’ve had it. The question is, what is it? It wasn’t a vaccine or lack thereof that did it, but keep in mind, there is no substitute for a doctor and modern medicine, even though it was not modern medicine (flu vaccine) involved in this case, except for my dr saying, “It can’t hurt” and that I could be lacking in some vitamins. I never once replaced seeing a doctor for the supplement regime and my son never once suggested I should either, but rather I used them in tandem, minus the flu shot that I can’t take.
Antioxidants might cause similar curiosities and questions for those whose dr said, “It can’t hurt” along with any other medications or health recommendations their dr has. Without more research, we won’t and can’t know, but I think this research should be done on people who have (a) health problem(s) along with medical treatment, if the patient can take said treatment. Then again, if they can take said treatment, then we can’t R/O the medical treatment, unlike R/O a vaccine that a patient cannot take. In my case, we can R/O the vaccine because I can’t take it and they did not take it. It was not a factor in this case. In my case, all I have to question are the supplements and/or the possibility of my immune system building up a resistance to certain viruses (with or without the supplements), as well as coincidence. What do people who take antioxidants have to R/O, esp if they are taking medication too? It would be unethical to deny one group proven treatment in favour of finding out if antioxidants or fish oil/flaxseed oil help, as well as maybe too late to test the use of antioxidants or fish oil/flaxseed oil by that time, in order to find out if antioxidants help. I don’t know of any cases where, unlike the flu vaccine, a person could not take heart or cancer medication due an allergy. Thus, I think it’s different to say, “OK, this group of people cannot take said vaccine, so let’s do an experiment with supplements” than it is to test supplements on heart or cancer patients without standard modern treatment.
Am I making any sense or am I just blabbering away, possibly like an idiot? Some things we can test, within reason and ethically, but others we cannot easily test and I think some things are worth testing, in this case alleged immune supporting supplements like C, D3, and zinc on people who cannot take the flu shot. I’m just not sure how we could ethically and reasonably test the other claims concerning other supplements, such as antioxidants and Omega 3 oils. I had nothing to loose (except a little money), but people with heart disease or cancer have lot to loose. Test flaxseed/Fish oil to see if it prevents heart disease and strokes or antioxidants prevent cancer? There are too many other factors involved, such as genetics, diet, etc. that I’m not sure if it is actually testable. I’m not even sure that adding C, D3, and zinc supplements all winter long actually helped me shorten the time that I had a respiratory infection in comparison to the people I’m staying with. In order to retest it, I’d have to do it again next year, except my environment will be different, maybe to the point of having to intentionally expose myself to some sort of respiratory infection, which is just stupid and even then it’s not a valid test given that I am just one person, aside from the research that has been done on D3, which different researchers got different results. Testing such things is highly problematic.