Are Antioxidant Supplements Worth It?

Vitamin C-rich foods presented in test tubes
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Antioxidant supplements are often touted as a means of preventing disease and fighting the negative effects of aging. Antioxidants are substances that help knock out free radicals—chemical by-products known to damage cells and contribute to the development of certain diseases. Antioxidants are found naturally in a number of foods. Supplements may include a number of different free-radical-fighting compounds.

Vitamins in Antioxidant Supplements

These vitamins are all considered antioxidants, and may be included in antioxidant supplements.

Benefits 

While research shows that a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can help protect against disease, it remains unclear whether antioxidant supplements are equally effective in disease prevention. Proponents of antioxidant supplements suggest that increasing your antioxidant intake can help prevent chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Drawbacks

It's important to note, however, that research into antioxidant supplements has raised some potential red flags.There have been some studies indicating that antioxidant supplements may actually pose health risks.

Cancer

Regular intake of supplements containing beta-carotene may increase cancer incidence and cancer deaths among smokers, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2008. The same report also showed that selenium supplementation may have cancer-fighting effects in men, while vitamin E supplementation had no effect on cancer incidence and mortality.

Cancer Therapy

In a report published in 2008, researchers cautioned that cancer patients should avoid the use of antioxidant supplements during radiation and chemotherapy. According to the report's authors, antioxidant supplements may reduce the anticancer effects of therapy.

Risk of Death

Taking antioxidant supplements containing beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin A may be linked to an increased risk of death, according to a 2007 review of 68 trials. Although no increased mortality risk was associated with vitamin C supplements, researchers didn't find any evidence that vitamin C supplementation increased longevity either. Selenium supplements, meanwhile, appeared to reduce the risk of death.

Some medical experts argue that studies showing a health risk for antioxidant supplements are flawed. After the 2007 review study linking antioxidant supplements to an increased risk of death, researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University released a statement arguing that the study "ignores the broad totality of evidence that comes to largely opposite conclusions."

The statement also noted that intake of antioxidants from foods or supplements has been shown to strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, eye disease, and neurodegenerative disease.

A Word From Verywell

To boost your antioxidant consumption, start by adding more antioxidant-rich foods to your diet. If you're looking to further increase your intake of antioxidants, talk to your doctor about whether antioxidant supplements are right for you.

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