Awhile back I read a news article where researchers from the University of Minnesota discovered that women that take vitamin supplements have an average of 2.4 % increase in mortality rate compared to those that do not. Seems odd doesn’t it? The article is still available here, and it names multivitamins (which could include a whole gamut of vitamins), folic acid, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper as the culprits. The study did not state any statistics on the cause of death, although it would seem if they knew the study participants well enough to know they were taking vitamins and knew they died, they might also know how they died, however no statistics were cited. I suppose the figures could be tainted if the people taking vitamins were trying to offset a disease to which they were predisposed. Or possibly they didn’t eat well in the first place so were trying to make up for what they don’t get in their diets. But could it be deeper than that? Could the vitamin supplements actually be killing us as the article suggests, or at least speeding up the inevitable?
I decided to look around a little more. I found this article on FuturePundit’s web site discussing a Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis on antioxidants. The article closes in on antioxidants (Vitamin A, C and E specifically) as increasing mortality rate and at even much higher rates than the University of Minnesota study on multivitamin, folic acid, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, zinc and copper use. They also spell out which vitamins had the highest risk, so check it out. But in particular this excerpt from the article caught my attention:
One of the uses of free radicals in the body is in the immune system to kill invading pathogens. Taking big doses of antioxidant vitamins might render aged immune systems less able to take on invader pathogens. So the higher mortality rate of vitamin takers might be due to dampened immune systems.
You may have heard the theory that everyone has cancer cells somewhere in their bodies and the people who succumb to cancer are the people whose immune systems are weak, allowing the cancer cells to get a foothold. Could antioxidants actually be weakening our immune systems allowing cancer growth?
I also checked Wikipedia and found this article about antioxidants. About a third of the way down the page I found this regarding the potential of antioxidants to damage health:
Some antioxidant supplements may promote disease and increase mortality in humans. Hypothetically, free radicals induce an endogenous response which protects against exogenous radicals (and possibly other toxic compounds). Recent experimental evidence strongly suggests that this is indeed the case, and that such induction of endogenous free radical production extends the life span of Caenorhabditis elegans. Most importantly, this induction of life span is prevented by antioxidants, providing direct evidence that toxic radicals may mitohormetically exert life extending and health promoting effects.
This also supports the theory that we need free radicals to fight off disease. If you would like to find more evidence that antioxidants might be shortening your life click here to get started.
Both the University of Minnesota and the Cochrane Collaboration met-analysis studies seem to contradict what was always recommended by vitamin supplement advocates. Vitamins A, C, and E (the major antioxidant vitamins) have been touted as the way to great cardiovascular health. And we’ve also been told that antioxidants help minimize the effects of aging. Now we are learning that they possibly contribute to the final effect of aging… death.
I’d like to provide my personal observations that support this anti-antioxidant theory:
In my experience working as a nurse I noticed something that caught me as a little peculiar. It seemed that when people were reaching the end of their lives by natural causes they usually either had cardiovascular disease or cancer. It was uncommon to see a patient that had both. I often wondered why. Could the people whom died of cancer been taking vitamins, and more specifically antioxidants, which weakened their immune systems? And could the people who died of cardiovascular disease have been patients whom did not take antioxidants? I’m sure it’s not that cut and dried however I wish I had those statistics!
In my family we always had more of a tendency for cardiovascular disease. In order to try to offset or delay the progression of that disease process (and with the added benefit of staying young as possible), I tried to stay fit and active, watched my weight and I took antioxidants and Niacin. As luck would have it, my cardiovascular health is pretty good. I don’t have hypertension and my cholesterol is terrific with an HDL of over 100. However, as you know I have (dare I say… had?) cancer instead. So how did that happen when there was little to no familial history? Well if it’s not inherited, it’s acquired. So I must have been doing something that contributed to my getting cancer. And so must a lot of other people since cancer has reached epidemic proportions. Could my antioxidants have caused my cancer and could the increased use of antioxidants in the general population be contributing to the increasing cancer rates? It would be interesting to see a graph showing the cancer rate overlaying antioxidant use over the last 50 years. Searching for this I could only find this article regarding current vitamin supplement trends and driving forces, however in does support the trend that vitamin supplement use is on the rise. And we all know cancer rates are thru the ceiling.
Even while I was on chemotherapy, I was taking powerful antioxidants (Pawpaw and Protocel) to protect my healthy cells from the chemo and because their advocates suggested they had anti-cancer properties of their own. Obviously that was before I knew about the down side of antioxidant use. Could the antioxidants have also been protecting the cancer cells from the chemo the same way it was protecting the healthy cells? This may explain why the lesion showed up in my liver after my course of chemo treatments was complete. And if you’ve read any of my other posts you can see that same liver lesion is no longer present after taking hydrogen peroxide… an oxidant!
Just in the name you can see that antioxidants protect from oxidants. Fortunately at the time I was taking the peroxide to treat the lesion in my liver, the only antioxidant I was on was selenium. You may have noted the selenium did not have an adverse effect on the death rates in the Cochrane Collaboration research seen in the FuturePundit article. So if any of you are taking 35% food grade hydrogen peroxide for cancer, I would do a careful analysis of the supplements you are taking and consider limiting your antioxidant use. They may be hindering the efficacy of the peroxide by protecting the cancer cells from the oxidant properties of the peroxide.
For the rest of you healthy folks out there… Don’t blindly take antioxidants because you’ve been told you’ll live longer and will look like you are 35 when you are 75. Recent research doesn’t support longevity with antioxidant supplement use. As always, do your own research and decide what’s best for you and with your family history.
I realize this is theory is controversial, everywhere you look antioxidants are touted as the being the latest fountain of youth and a necessity for health. They just might not be the panacea we’ve been lead to believe they are. And I’m not suggesting you start exposing yourself to hords of oxidants and free radicals. Possibly the answer in a healthy person is balance. For those of you that wish you were healthy, your antioxidant/oxidant ratios may be out of balance and may need some tweaking. It’s at least something to consider.
The only antioxidants my body gets now come naturally from fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet. Oh… and I have a nearly full bottle of multivitamins I’m willing to give away. Any takers?