Antioxidants – Seldom Useful, Often Harmful


Medical science always thinks it knows better that hundreds of million years of evolution. In the human body – heck any living creature’s body – everything has a purpose, has a reason for being tfhadfh

The identification of various ‘demons’ by the high priests of medicine probably goes back to our ancient caveman days. But how is the demon identified? In the past, it could be by decree, the most important shaman deciding what is and what is not important.

It is still often decided by decree, with the most important shaman (institutional official) making the call. Or it could be by government committee, or by the marketing department of a pharmaceutical or supplement company.

All this behind-the-scenes soft shoe is plastered over with a thin layer of ‘science based medicine’ or ‘evidence based medicine’ and various eager groups are then funded to go out and find the science or the evidence.

Too cynical here? Perhaps, but some of the demons take on a life (and profitability) of their own. Consider the anti-oxidant. We have heard for decades that reactive oxygen species, sometimes called the much scarier ‘free-radicals’, were what was killing us. Our poor idiotic body was just left clueless by this horrible assault, and therefore had to be rescued by our medical and pharmaceutical white knights.

Thus began the war on free-radicals. What could go wrong?

The body’s had several hundred million years to worry about this. Surely it has adapted. Surely, there must be purpose, some regulation to some desirable end. Such tiny voices of reason were drowned out for decades. Then, about 10 years ago, some chinks started appearing in the armor. All the vaunted vitamins we had been tossing down since time immemorial were suddenly appearing to be – egads – useless, or even dangerous. How could this be? We will get to that in a moment, but the short answer is: Everything the body does, it does for a purpose. Any attempt to meddle with it has the potential consequences.

We have a newly published study: “Antioxidant Vitamin Intake and Mortality

The Leisure World Cohort Study” by researchers Annlia Paganini-Hill, Claudia H. Kawas and María M. Corrada. Leisure World is in the L.A. area. (Where else?). Retirees completed questionnaires on their use of supplements containing vitamins A, C, and E, and their consumption of foods containing A and C. These were collected and compared with death certificates to determine if lives were lengthened or shortened. After the usual statistical rain dance where every thing is adjusted to make the comparisons fair, the researchers concluded that A and C, in pill or food form, made no difference to mortality. Vitamin E, on the other hand, increased it. More people died.

Meddle with the body, and you break even at best, but often lose. Yet there seems no end to science’s lofty belief that it knows best.

This is scientific lunacy. The body knows best. Give it a fighting chance, and it will win the fight. Don’t overload it with glucose, don’t restrain it with anti-oxidants or statins. Work it out. Run everything from cells to hips, back, and knees over their full range. Take it easy, have fun, relax, sleep. The body will do the rest. It doesn’t need any help, but it does need guidance; especially when there are so many ‘experts’ out their giving advice.

Combination disclaimer and caveat emptor: The statistical methodologies mentioned above (‘rain dance’) to make sure apples are being compared to apples are absolutely necessary. It is also subject to tremendous abuse. Indeed, by having control over just what an ‘apple’ is, one can get almost any result. This has gotten so bad in psychology research, that the new norm is that researchers must define exactly how they are going to evaluate things before they do the experiment.  For more on how statistical trickery might be employed, see Understanding Medical Research – Part 1 – Spotting Doubtful Research and Understanding Medical Research – Part 3 – Interpreting Results.

So why do we need to leave those dangerous sounding free-radicals alone? The body is an incredibly dynamic and regulated bio-machine, constantly building anew and tearing down and recycling the old. We have internally perhaps a quadrillion tiny little energy generators called mitochondria that participate fundamentally.

Mitochondria are, in fact, enslaved bacteria from a chance and highly fortuitous encounter in an ancient primordial sea. Each of these generates energy from sugar and fat. They also generate the free-radicals, as, seemingly, a waste product, but an odd one at that. If they are running full tilt (high energy demands) they generate very few. If idle, they generate a lot. They then commit suicide so they won’t be in the way. With most energy generation we are familiar with, it is the other way around. It is as if they can only partially process the available fuel and the excess becomes waste. Such was the thinking, and the idea emerged to help the body get rid of it via ‘anti-oxidants’.

But these free-radicals had a noble purpose. The free-radicals are employed as a signal to down-regulate – to cool it. The free radicals tend to kill the mitochondria. This is a ‘programmed’ death. It is intentional.  We don’t want a bunch of mitochondria spinning out of control, so the free-radicals are part of the mitochondrial regulation mechanism. If there are enough of the free radicals, they will trigger programmed cell death as well. This is also desirable. If there is no need for the cell, it becomes, in most cases, excess baggage. Some cells are exempted from this ‘contribute or get out of the way’ sort of thing – notably brain and heart cells. Though, even here, there is more turnover than was once believed, which is good news by the way.

This is but one of the functions, there are many more that are known, and likely many many more that are not.

What’s the moral here? Whatever you are taking should be for a reason, to supplement a known deficiency – thyroid for instance. However, you should avoid taking something that has merely been labeled as something the body needs help with. This is the supreme arrogance. We DON’T know better. Also, the notion that the supplement will either help, or do no harm is equally fallacious. Consider the mortality increasing vitamin E mentioned above. There are plenty more of these.

By the way, the next demon is already showing up: INFLAMMATION.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *