Energy beverages, vitamin pills, beauty drinks. We have swallowed bucketloads of “antioxidant-rich products” in a belief that the antioxidants they contain could improve our health and turn back the aging clock.
But sadly, researchers now say the antioxidant myth could be just another medical fairy tale.
“There is little to no data supporting the use of antioxidants to protect against disease,” said Toren Finkel, a health professional at the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
What’s even sadder, large doses of antioxidant supplements could promote the very problems they are supposed to stamp out.
A recent review of the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial showed long-term, regular use of Vitamin E supplements increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men.
However, antioxidants have long since acquired a reputation as miracle health supplements.
As long ago as the 1950s, scientists discovered that many diseases – including heart diseases, strokes and cancer – are linked to free radicals, destructive chemicals that can destroy cell membranes and disrupt crucial processes in the body.
Then in the early 1990s, they noticed that people who eat foods rich in antioxidants, often found in fruits and vegetables, have lower rates of cancer and heart disease.
A hypothesis was thus born: antioxidants, including Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and polyphenols, are a weapon against free-radical damage.
Manufacturers have since emblazoned “antioxidants” on everything. Nestle’s Glowelle Beauty Drink connects to beliefs about antioxidants’ skin benefits with its message about being “the highest antioxidant beauty drink”. Coca Cola’s Vitamin Water-XXX boasts “triple antioxidants”. Even Starbucks introduced its “antioxidant-rich” Blueberries & Crème Frappuccino.
Last year alone, hundreds of products with antioxidant claims were launched, said Carlotta Mast, editor-in-chief of Newhope360.com, which tracks the market in natural, organic and healthy products.
“To fight oxidative stress, exercise. And eat your fruits and vegetables,” professor David Neiman at Appalachian State University, US gives his timeworn advice.