Antioxidant backlash redux

According to Henry Scowcroft of Cancer Research UK writing in The Guardian: “Large studies have repeatedly shown that, with the possible exception of vitamin D, antioxidant supplements have negligible positive effect on healthy people, at least in terms of important things such as preventing people getting cancer or dying prematurely. And some supplements – notably vitamins A, E and beta-carotene – even seem to slightly raise the risk of disease and early death.”
The antioxidant myth is too easy to swallow.

I’ve been saying as much for years, and was quoted from a short blog post here in Newsweek a couple of years ago in an article about the antioxidant backlash. It caused quite a shtstorm at the time with all sorts of CAM quacks crawling out of the woodwork to slag me off. Quite bizarre really given that the quote was a throwaway remark in a very short blog post and not a full critique of the state of research into antioxidants at all.

Antioxidant supplements are big business, but they promise an elixir of life that is, it seems, really not supported by scientific evidence and repeatedly advertisers come unstuck when they make overblown and hyperbolic claims about the benefits of this or that product.

Scowcroft points out that we seem to cling to the idea of panaceas and elixirs because the alternative is a bitter pill to swallow. If any life changes can overcome genetics and environmental factors then they are: Don’t smoke. Stay in shape. Eat a balanced diet. Limit alcohol intake. Keep active.

Now, who wants to do that instead of just popping a few daily pills?