DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE
Antioxidant Supplements for Heart Disease Prevention in Women
Should women take antioxidant supplements?
If oxidation is bad, shouldn't antioxidant supplements be helpful for the
Similarly, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which constructs guidelines that doctors use in clinical practice based on strict scientific review of clinical research, reviewed all the clinical research regarding the role of antioxidants in cancer and heart disease. The USPSTF concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against the use of supplements of vitamins A, C, E, or antioxidant combinations for the prevention of cancer or cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, because some studies actually proved harm resulting from particular antioxidant supplements, USPSTF specifically recommends against the use of beta-carotene supplements, either alone or in combination for prevention of cancer or cardiovascular disease. Not only did beta-carotene not protect against cancer or cardiovascular disease, but it actually increased the risk of lung cancer and the chance of dying in studies of smokers. (Of course, these recommendations are not meant to apply to people who have diagnosed vitamin deficiencies that require treatment.)
We've learned some lessons along the way...
Antioxidant compounds cannot just be lumped together, as they each have distinct effects. Starting antioxidant supplements earlier in life may be required for heart protection. Moreover, it may be difficult to find heart disease benefits of antioxidant supplements in studies that in general, were under 5 years in duration, compared to a life-long diet rich in antioxidants. Obviously we have much to learn about the details of the oxidization-antioxidation balance.
The bottom line is that for better or worse, a diet high in antioxidants from food sources, just doesn't translate to taking antioxidants as supplements for heart protection. Vitamin supplements don't take the place of a healthy diet.
Last Editorial Review: 3/7/2005