Study: Could those high-priced antioxidants actually be killing you?

BEIJING — Fear of mortality is one reason Americans spend so much on “antioxidant” products, including Vitamin C supplements and beta-carotene, which promise a longer healthier life. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of adults in the U.S. consume some kind of antioxidant product, spending $37 billion each year.

But a study conducted in China – where aging is akin to a national obsession these days – claims that antioxidants don’t work as billed. The study is published in the journal Redox Biology.

Rather than extending longevity, researchers say they trigger a stress reaction which causes the body to age more rapidly.

In other words, those expensive life-enhancers may actually be killing you.

Researchers discovered the relationship by studying how oxidants affected worms and human cells at various stages of development.  Oxidants, it turned out, had no measurable impact on aging.

But introducing antioxidants disturbed the mechanism in cells that resists aging and as a result, the cells began aging more rapidly — “unnaturally fast,” said Chen Chang, the lead scientist on the project at the Institute of Biophysics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Chang and her team are especially concerned about their findings because of the widespread use of antioxidants among Chinese youth. “More and more ‘white collar workers’ in their 20s are taking pills containing antioxidants such as Vitamin C and tea polyphenols. They must stop,” Chang told the South China Morning Post.

But older people are also more likely to die faster due to supplements, they found. Chang recommended that antioxidant use in China and elsewhere be curtailed.

The Chinese study appears to confirm the results of a 2008 “meta-review” of 405 studies comparing the longevity of people that consumed various kinds of vitamin supplements with those that took only a placebo. That review, conducted by top medical researchers in Denmark, found no significant differences in the mortality rates of the two groups.

So far, none of these new studies has put a dent in the multi-billion dollar vitamin and supplement industry, which continues to promote the presumed anti-aging benefits of its products.

And there is little evidence that consumers are paying attention, either – or if they are, that they care.

But the evidence against antioxidants is mounting.

Another medical study conducted last year found that overuse of Vitamin D supplements was associated with a higher risk of falls in men and in women 70 years and older.

Apparently, Nature is sending a message: Stop trying to reset your biological clock.

Editor’s Note: does not agree, nor disagree with the studies we post on this site. Our goal is to provide you with the latest results of professional studies and leave it to our readers to debate and explain their positions on these findings.

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  1. God laughs at our miserable attempts at longevity and immortality.Longevity seems to be more an attitude and spirit than something to be attained be rigourous disciple and control.

  2. Of course, China is famed for low-quality and sometimes contaminated consumables. Overall, though, I think whole-food supplements are the best choices. You get all the co-factors and a much wider variety of nutrients in their natural form.

  3. All I can tell you is that at 12 years of age I was 5’3″ tall, weighed 110 pounds, rode a bicycle everywhere, and had no girlfriend. That was the year I started taking supplements. Twenty years later, I’m 6’3″, weigh 210 pounds, drive a Dodge Viper, and my fiancée is beautiful. You draw your own conclusion.

  4. I always love when the interview some centenarian and they say they eat bacon and eggs and other “bad” foods/drinks daily.

  5. In China, I wouldn’t take the supplements either. The NAZI’s figured out how vitamins works many moons ago. Whole food vitamins got results. That’s it. We weren’t made to ingest lab chemicals. I don’t know what these kids are taking, but I doubt it’s from some untainted organic fields in China. That place is a cesspool.

  6. If there’s one group of people I trust even more than researchers who live off government grants, it’s the Chinese Communists.
    Thank you for this informative and important article.

  7. So Vitamin C is bad for U? REEEEEAAAALLLLY?! uuuummm, Vitamin C increases white blood cells & in turn fights colds (virus’). So if for no other reason, I’ll stick w/my Airborne! Way too many Chicken Littles masquerading as Scientists!

  8. Lets see, Ive been taking DHEA and Antioxidents for about 30 years now, and I’m 53 years old, and look like I am still in my 30s. Oh yes, they are killing me for sure. Resveratrol, Krill Oil, Coral Calcium, They are all killing me, but I feel and look great….

  9. Hahahaha. You know what, the quality of life was more important to the Greeks and Romans than the quantity. I told my children many times I have accepted death as a part of life–something that makes life worth living. So yeah, a cheeseburger and a beer is quality of life. I don’t want to live a couple extra years with brittle bones trying to spend one more day with children or grandchildren. Instead enjoying the moments with them and living life with everything that is bountiful and fills me and them with joy. Much more rewarding than fad diets and obsessed over controlling the inevitable. Live your life people! This life you will live once and you won’t make it out alive.

  10. There is better research out there that shows there are millions of more deaths from legal prescription medicines and very few from supplements.

  11. Well, how about this then; “Antioxidants add life to your years, not years to your life.” Sorry I don’t buy the BS coming out of China. They don’t do anything that doesn’t have an agenda behind it. We don’t take supplements to live longer my friends, we take supplements to be healthier while we are living. Of course they don’t mention that do they. This is the type of crap funded by the Big Pharma in trying to make supplements look like a bad choice because they couldn’t find another way to destroy their competition.

    Don’t buy into this kind of BS my friends. Unless you know who is funding those studies and groups you have no idea as to their purpose of designing research to reveal a specific outcome they are looking to promulgate as the supposed latest from science.

    1. If you buy them with a prescription…than you will be just fine..But if you buy the same thing over the counter..Its bad for you..They have lost control..Gee, cant trust doctors now?

  12. Antioxidants are still the only proven way that humans can effectively combat oxygen free radicals that damage cells and cause mutations leading to all kinds of disease like cancer, memory loss, etc. Instead of mega dosing Vitamin D, perhaps the study should have concentrated on vitamins that do not get toxic at higher IU levels (Vit E for instance).

    Eating unprocessed foods, exercise, and everything else in moderation should be the standard for good health. No pill or vitamin can replace consistently making healthy lifestyle choices. Of course, that’s not news.

    I doubt the study in China controlled for smog and pollution…These environmental factors /exposure to chemicals weigh heavily on one’s overall health, including creating the oxygen free radicals that folks take antioxidants to neutralize in the first place.

  13. If you take into account all the things all the experts tell you, there are only two things you can safely put in your body: grass and water. And the grass has pesticides and the water is polluted.

  14. I use certain supplements to enhance the quality of my life, and to help prevent serious illness, which so far has worked. I in no way expect to live longer, based on the use of
    vitamins and minerals, but hopefully live better.

  15. This is an atrocious article. I cannot believe that Stewart Lawrence even read the study. First of all, it was conducted with cell cultures and roundworms, so extrapolation to human experience and effect is tenuous at best. Then incorrect statements abound, perhaps as a result of poor translation from a Chinese newspaper.
    1. ” Oxidants, it turned out, had no measurable impact on aging.” What? The entire study was designed to compare the effects of oxidative stress on young vs old cells. The study found profound differences.
    2. “But introducing antioxidants disturbed the mechanism in cells that resists aging and as a result, the cells began aging more rapidly.” What? This was NOT a feature of this study at all. No antioxidant challenge is included in the Methods section, nor mentioned in Discussion or Conclusions.
    3. “But older people are also more likely to die faster due to supplements, they found.” What? This is unconscionable. The study was done with roundworms, a genetically simple organism with a two week lifespan. This data can only serve to prompt a human clinical trial at some point in the future.
    Summary: The free radical theory of aging was discarded long ago in favor of a more comprehensive view that could be called the Metabolic Model, in which degeneration and death results from un-repaired damage at the DNA, cell, tissue and organ level. Oxidative stress is only ONE of the damaging forces and we now understand that balance (otherwise known as the REDOX state) is the key. It may be that taking handfuls of vitamin C and vitamin E is a bad idea. That has certainly been shown post-exercise. But antioxidants derived from whole foods and food concentrates, as well as compounds like resveratrol have been shown to reduce DNA damage and upregulate the mechanisms identified in this study as having potential anti-aging benefits.

  16. Well vit D is pretty useless unless taken with vit k2. That helps it get to the bones. Taking vitamins in food that come with other vitamins tht work together is much different than a huge dose of one by itself.

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