antioxidant supplements

An Antioxidant Bashing!

Antioxidants have come in for another critical mauling as widely reported in the mainstream press. Normally such criticism is directed solely at antioxidant supplements, but what is not clear is whether the latest ‘negativity’ extends to typical antioxidant foods such as Broccoli (surely not I hear some of you cry!).

“Nobel laureate James Watson claims antioxidants in late-stage cancers can promote cancer progression” runs the introduction on the Royal Society web page (link below). For a start this is (of course) a very delicate and emotive condition that Mr Watson has chosen to address. I don’t think anyone (or any reputable business) would be so dramatic to claim that antioxidants, whether in food or supplement form, can make a noticeable difference to someone sadly so ill.

If one was arguing for Dr Watson there is a school of thought that considers antioxidants as protective nutrients could protect cancer cells. But this fails to acknowledge natural apoptotic mechanisms (a type of cell death) that are stimulated by antioxidant nutrients such a curcumin, and redifferentiators such as lycopene (a carotenoid antioxidant found in tomatoes). When a cell becomes cancerous or changes in any way it is said to “differentiate”, when it returns to normal structure and function it “redifferentiates”. A redifferentiator is a substance that has the ablility to help cells return to normal from abnormal.

These are examples of “antioxidants” that have a deleterious effect (causing harm or damage) on cancer cells but are sparing to healthy cells – so perhaps one could conclude from this that the body is an intelligent entity and will be able to overcome most disease given the right nutrients in the correct biological form for use? In addition one could argue that you cannot generalise about certain antioxidants sparing (or enhancing) cancer cells when some antioxidants are specifically targeted at destroying cells that have become cancerous.

The topic of antioxidants seems to attract two very opposing public stances. What is intriguing here is whether it is being suggested that antioxidant rich foods (or indeed supplements) are not really helpful to good general health throughout one’s life – as opposed to a diet of cheese burgers for example?

I include two further links below – to the story being reported in both the Daily Mail and the Guardian. The gist of the media argument seems to be that antioxidants have been cynically over-hyped of late (‘Super Foods!) and that certain research indicates that antioxidant supplements have no long-term beneficial effect on health, or even in some cases a detrimental effect.

The difficulty for the public is, yet again, how to make an informed and educated decision as to what they eat or supplement with. Research is only as effective as its scope of reference – and there is a huge body of research weighed in favour of the beneficial effects of antioxidants in general.

A very brief refresh on Antioxidants – They are nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that may protect and repair cells from damage caused by ‘free radicals’. Many experts believe fighting ‘free radical’ damage is essential to help prevent chronic diseases and helps boost the immune system. Antioxidants are almost exclusively associated with Fruit and Vegetables. So for example foods rich in Beta- Carotene, Vitamins C & E such as apricots, carrots, berries, broccoli, peppers, etc. etc. The minerals Zinc (found in nuts, oysters, red meat etc.) and Selenium (found in Brazil Nuts, beef etc.) are also good antioxidant sources.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter – you can post a comment below or on our Facebook page (link on the right). It seems a ‘no brainer’ to me – healthy eating with lots of varied fruit and vegetables for a wide range of natural and essential nutrients. These foods are naturally rich in antioxidants – is the Governments ‘5-a-day’ campaign misplaced!

And finally dependant on each individual’s nutritional intake and general health you may wish to consider supplementing with an appropriate vitamin and/or mineral and/or antioxidant supplement – based on some good advice.

I will blog more about antioxidants in the near future covering related topics such as ‘flavonoids’, ‘carotenoids’ and the ‘ORAC’ score amongst many interesting and related subjects.


For the full Daily Mail article: ‘Superfoods’ and Antioxidants
For the full Guardian article: Antioxidants
Royal Society review of Dr Watson comments: Royal Society

Last updated on 16th December 2014 by


4 thoughts on “An Antioxidant Bashing!

  1. If you look at the Canceractive website, there is plenty of published research mentioned that shows the benefits of supplements and antioxidants in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

  2. The problem with these headlining “scientific” stories is that they never reveal the protocol of the experiment. As you say, to use very ill patients with late stage cancer is very emotive. There is so much not said it negates the article. There is so much pseudo-science stuff around, yet years and years of painstaking “anecdotal” evidence is disregarded. It does get frustrating and very confusing.
    One good thing is that this sort off thing stimulates debate and helps to bring the truth to the fore.

  3. It is true that some free-radicals are useful in some conditions or in current physiology (NO for instance whose activity in endothelial function is well known), and during chemotherapy it is not suitable to take anti-oxidants. However, too much importance has been given by some newspapers to the statements of a Nobel Prize who has already been several times polemic (racism, machism, …). James Watson may be very important in the field of genetics but he will not change the Nature: to fight the stress of free-radicals, plants will still produce anti-oxidants for a long time. Mankind may choose (or not) to use them in order to balance the oxidative stress and not to completely suppress every free-radicals .

  4. Absolutely. And in fact free radicals are the stimulus for production of haemopoietic stem cells so they have their benefits – just too many without sufficient anti oxidant defenses will incite a disease process. Although possible in theory, it is unlikely in practice that a situation would arise in which they body was so flooded with antioxidants as to totally suppress free radical production as they are produced ongoing by the body as by-products of metabolism. But as in everything, it is about balance and providing sufficient of all things needed by the body for optimal health in the form that will readily fit into normal metabolic pathways.

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