We all need vitamins and minerals for our body to function properly and stay healthy. Each and every vitamin and mineral plays an important and special roles in maintaining our good health. There has been a long debate if vitamins and other supplements are really necessary as part of your dietary regime.
Some experts advocate taking in essential vitamins and nutrients by eating whole complete food. As long as you includes all sources of complex carbohydrates, proteins and essential fats from a well balanced diet, you should have your daily dose. This is the ideal scenario. It's probably not the case for today's modern busy yet sedentary lifestyle.
Some people have medical deficiency in certain vitamins and nutrients that require supplementation. For most people, it's a matter of feeling-good preventive measures. However, it's not right if you spend a lot of money on vitamins and supplements but neglect macro nutrition.
There are 80 to 160 million people taking antioxidants in North American and Europe. In 2006 alone, Americans spent $2.3 billion on nutritional supplements and vitamins. Antioxidants are believed to fight free radicals released in the body that can cause cell damage.
A recent research study on antioxidant vitamins was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study was led by the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark. The team reviewed more than 815 clinical trials but selected only 68 "best-conducted" studies for their final analysis. Here is their takeaway message:
Antioxidants don't help you live longer.
They concluded that there is no long-life benefit from taking vitamins A, E, C, beta-carotene and selenium as antioxidants.
Is that right?! Is this another case of bad science or biased study by funding institutions?
Their research findings are highlighted in the following:
- No significant effect of mortality was found based on analysis of 68 studies involving 232,606 people.
- A higher risk of death for people taking vitamins was found after excluding the "lower quality" studies: 16% for vitamin A, 4% for vitamin E and 7% for beta-carotene. The actual cause of death in most studies was unknown.
- The study supports the theory that antioxidants work best when consumed in food rather than pills.
As always, some other scientist and experts dispute these findings from the other side of fence.
- How and why the group exclude the "low quality" studies? How do they define the "best-conducted" studies?
- The pooled studies were too diverse to yield significant data for analysis.
- More than two-thirds of the previous research studies involved people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, cancer or other risks. They were treated with various antioxidants and doses to see if the supplements worked. A single antioxidant supplement can't have major effect in reversing life-threatening cardiovascular disease.
We heard this type of research study and story every few years. The experts flip-flop their research findings and recommendations. They don't reach an agreement.
So what can do we as consumers? Do we take them at our own risk? There are a few important points to remember:
- There is a place for vitamins and nutrional supplements.
- Antioxidants are not meant to treat disease. They are "supplements", not drugs or medicines.
- Focus on healthy lifestyle changes - stop smoking and lose weight. Reduce the causes of superoxide free radicals from oxidative stress.
- Eat a well balanced diet with a wide range of foods that provides all nutrients the body needs to protect itself.
- Dietary supplements (vitamins and minerals) may help bridge the nutritional gap for some people with certain deficiencies.
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