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Antioxidants cannot slow ageing.

Diets and creams claiming their antioxidant properties could cheat ageing may be worthless, a study says. Using Nematode worms, scientists found even those given enhanced antioxidant powers to deal with tissue damaging free radicals did not live longer. The team from University College London said, in the Genes and Development journal, there was no clear evidence they could slow ageing.

AntioxidantsDiets and creams claiming their antioxidant properties could cheat ageing may be worthless, a study says. Using Nematode worms, scientists found even those given enhanced antioxidant powers to deal with tissue damaging free radicals did not live longer. The team from University College London said, in the Genes and Development journal, there was no clear evidence they could slow ageing.

For as long as I can remember, antioxidants have achieved almost mythical status amongst nutrition professionals. Increased antioxidant intake has been linked to reduced risk of some forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease and the signs of ageing. The theory behind this is a complicated one, but the very simple explanation and some basic facts follow

  • Free radicals are very short lived substances that are a natural by product of  metabolism and the immune system ( as well as UV light, smoking and pollution ).  They are a reactive form of oxygen and are also called superoxides.  This is known as oxidative stress
  • Free radicals can be detrimental to the structure of cells.
  • Damaged cells lead to disease
  • The action of free radicals can be countered by antioxidants.
  • The human body produces substances to combat the free radicals   and the theory is that these can be enhanced and added to.
  • Many nutrients have antioxidant capabilities, and the most well known are vitamins A, C and E, selenium and zinc.
  • Therefore antioxidants combat some diseases.
  • Antioxidant nutrients are available from supplements.

This short and very simplified explanation is not designed to denigrate the theory, merely to cover it in its broadest and perhaps most easily digested form.

I have often worried that the theory is perhaps just too simple, and that antioxidants were just part of a larger picture. For example, antioxidants are highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables, which contain many other micronutrients and also contain fibre and water. A diet high in all these properties ( akin to the fabled Mediterranean diet ) has been shown to lead to lower incidence of many diseases and has been attributed with anti-ageing properties.

Antioxidants2I don’t believe that antioxidants alone produce these results but instead that the sort of people that eat a diet high in fresh produce, perhaps even take supplements are likely to eat very little saturated and trans fats, refined sugars, drink moderately and exercise as well. Therefore they are far more likely to have a reduced risk of disease as well as reduced signs of ageing.

In other words, the benefits of a good diet go hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle, and should never be attributed to any one element.

 

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