Monday, 20 June 2011

The antioxidant myth

An antioxidant, yesterday. (Ascorbic acid)
We are regularly bombarded with advertising about products containing antioxidants. 'Whoa! Healthy stuff!' we are supposed to cry. Because we all know that antioxidants are good to consume. Don't we? Even aircraft manufacturers have got in on the act. Apparently Airbus' concept cabin for 2050 include 'vitamin and antioxidant enriched air.'

Now antioxidants are really good things. The antioxidants produced in your body do essential work in mopping up free radicals that can cause damage to cells. And tests where antioxidants are used directly on cells show a benefit. But here's the thing. There isn't any good evidence that consuming antioxidants gives you any benefit at all. In fact there may even be a small cancer risk as a result of the eating and drinking them. (This in itself should not be too worrying. Lots of good things have a small cancer risk attached to eating them. Celery, for instance.)

Why, then, do we keep hearing about products that are packed full of antioxidants? Early in the last century it was thought that radioactive products were good for you. You could buy radioactive toothpaste and radioactive hair tonic. The advertising was full of the benefits of these products. Strangely enough, you don't see them advertised any more. Now I'm not suggesting antioxidants are as bad as radium as something to boast about in your products, but it's still bizarre that the advertising of antioxidants continues, and is allowed to continue, when there are no proven benefits.

Image from Wikipedia

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