The protective power of antioxidants might be vastly oversold

Scientists are beginning to question the idea that free-radicals cause aging and, with that, the entire basis of the antioxidant industrial complex. Maybe, now, everything can stop tasting of acai berries.


  1. I understood antioxidants to be a wash when it comes to cancer.  Fewer free radicals mean fewer mutations leading to fewer cancer cells.  But apoptosis (programed cell death) and other mechanisms the body uses to purge cancers cells are dependent on free radicals.  The net result is the same number of tumors.

    1. I take a little selenium, because there’s some actual evidence it helps.  But I’ve read the same thing about cancer, so I’m not too smug about it.

    1. Well Goldacre popularized the by that point well attested evidence that both antioxidants and multi-vitamins were either bunk or actively harmful. IIRC the major studies and reviews/meta-analyses came out in the late 90’s. So basically anyone who’s been aware of the subject has known this was the consensus for better than a decade. As far as I’m concerned any new studies or info that catches major news coverage is good. Maybe it’ll actually stick this time. 

  2. But….. but The Daily Mail just told me that they work.  I DON’T KNOW WHO TO BELIEVE ANYMORE!

    1. Just wait, and the Daily Mail will eventually label antioxidants deadly. Then stop reading before they go back to supporting them.

    1. No.  You’ll tell your friends. They’ll tell their friends.  And so on.  Next thing I know, I’m sharing eternity with all you bozos.

    2.  Me too. That way I can avoid doing any of them and get out before all you longtailers start in with your 3000 symphonies.

  3. Since Persephone chawed on the pomegranate and Eve bit first: fruits have been WAY overrated as death defying panaceas.

    Cheez-Its on the other hand…the gateway to Immortality.

    1. Ahem.  Eve specifically was NOT eating from the tree of eternal life.  God chased them out of the garden before they could do that.  It was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which she bit. End ahem.

  4. just don’t add too much weight to James Watson’s idle musings on this particular issue.  he wasn’t exactly the most brilliant side of that Nobel prize, he just managed to glimpse poor ol’ Rosalind Franklin’s work and then relayed it to a drinking buddy who just happened to have been reviewing a very germane submission.  sometimes even in science, fame comes chiefly from chance.

      1. Keep the multivitamins, including the antioxidants, but do…do…do…add the Metformin which is also called glucophage. You cannot go wrong for so many reasons – I won’t go into it here but anyone still monitoring this thread should research it. In fact, although I do take some fancy supplements, if I had to choose beyween them, I would pick the glucophage and a multivitamin and ditch the other stuff — oh yeah…I would also keep my vitamin d supplement. 

  5. Glad I’ve always laughed at the trendy, grossly overpriced acai juice that schmucks buy and instead get cheap, highly effective orange juice (with lots of pulp) to keep my immune system rock solid.

    1. Antioxidants are one of those special things that are relatively common but still sound unusual. So expensive imported Mexican thimbleberries may have no more than ordinary apples, but you can still market them as a source of antioxidants.

      See also: our brand of yogurt has bacteria in it!

      1. No, you’ve got it wrong.  Our yogurt has probiotics in it – their yogurt is infected with bacteria!

    2. Orange juice is pretty much just liquid sugar. If it has vitamins and minerals, it’s because they’re added in post-processing, no? At least the OJ industry doesn’t have a spam army.

      1. I only get OJ that’s “not from concentrate” and with lots of pulp so it’s a bit less processed than concentrate and make sure it’s 100% juice, not that other horseshit.

        AFAIK, it’s got vitamin C naturally and the right mechanisms for delivery of it into my system. I drink it every other day for the most part and since doing so, I literally don’t get sick. Not even the common cold and I’m exposed to many more germy germs than average people are and it’s been years now.

        I guess I could buy expensive, fresh squeezed OJ, but I’m happy with the results I’m getting with my cheaper “not from concentrate” concoction.

        I understand that in order to provide OJ year round and keep it cheap, they suck the oxygen out and store it in huge vats. They then later add some essence of OJ back in (ethyl butyrate, etc. flavor packets). But, I don’t mind that personally since it’s in the orange naturally anyway and added back in to make up for the oxygen process thing for better taste and smell.

        I don’t have time to juice a bunch of oranges or want to pay the extra expense for fresh squeezed, so this’ll work.

        There’s some debate about exactly why orange pulp is good for you, but I strongly suspect it aids in proper absorption of the vitamins and minerals that boost my immune system. Same reason I only get fish oil that’s enteric coated or not at all.

        I’d rather eat oranges, but they’re a time consuming pain in the ass. So YMMV, but it works for me so far.

        1. I eat green vegetables, tomatoes, red peppers, etc. every day.  Drinking OJ would just seem like taking a very large, sugary vitamin pill to me.  Of course, it helps that I find it nauseatingly sweet.

          1. Bah, just will your lazy cells to absorb chloroplasts and then you can sustain yourself on coffee, the dim light of a monitor and sarcasm, like I do.

          2. Drinking OJ … sugary … nauseatingly sweet

            You must have been drinking a shitty, concentrated brand with sugar added. The kind I get isn’t like that. Or at least mine doesn’t taste like that to me anyway. Also, I never drink it room temp, always cool/cold.

            I eat green vegetables, tomatoes, red peppers, etc. every day.

            Shitchyeah… ok, ok… How about spinach, shredded carrots, almonds (crushed), little bit of shredded mexican style cheese, raspberry vinaigrette dressing (only the kind with apple cider vinegar within it), little bit of sunflower seeds all in a nice salad for lunch? (all that for under 2 bucks a serving too!) And, organic, vanilla yogurt (local farm) mixed with banana slices for mini-dessert?

            I love ’em, but my peppers and tomatoes always go bad before I chop them up and the pre-chopped go bad even quicker so I’ve given up on them. But, everything else above I can store for about a week and throw it all together in about 3 minutes. I’m a time&storage-nazi when it comes to preparing food and I want it cheap-ish. Hate shrinkage.

          3. Awww…. give flavonoids a chance… Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I had fresh squeezed so maybe I’d hate it now, or maybe OJ in general has an acquired taste?

            Now that I think of it, if I don’t drink it for a little while, I sometimes have to get used to it again. As if I have to get my pH back in order or something before it tastes as good again (and doesn’t seem too acidic for my tummy).

            Also, certain brands taste like shit to me, so who knows…? To be honest, the only reason I drink OJ is because for me it’s like cheapo kryptonite against cold & flu. I simply don’t get sick if I drink a few swigs every other day or so. And, now that I’m acclimated to it, I actually enjoy its taste, etc.

            Maybe it does something to my pH levels for prevention of illness? I dunno, but since I started this moderate OJ regimen I haven’t been sick in years. Back in the day, I experimented by avoiding OJ for months and caught a cold during that time.

            Welp, you got tomatoes which probably does basically the same thing I guess.

          4. It’s a bit like maple syrup. A couple of tablespoonfuls is tasty, but I wouldn’t care to chug a glass of it.

          5. Or at least mine doesn’t taste like that to me anyway. 

            That’s because you’re used to it. Seriously, stay away from sweet juices and what-not for a while, and when you come back you’ll find it incedibly sweet as well.

            Also, I don’t drink orange juice and literally never get sick as well, so I’m not sure there’s any correlation we can conclude here vis a vis OJ and health.

          6. The great secret to staying healthy is to avoid any contact with other humans. I’ve only had one URI since I started this job, compared to two or three per year when I worked in a physical business space.

          7. Seriously, stay away from sweet juices and what-not for a while

            No thanks. As I said previously, did that and caught a cold. I don’t drink gallons of OJ anyway, just a little swig or two every other day. Moderation is the key for me.

            I don’t drink orange juice and literally never get sick as well, so I’m not sure there’s any correlation we can conclude here vis a vis OJ and health.

            I didn’t say it was healthy for everyone, just me. I see your anecdotal experience and raise you mine.

          8. That’s because you’re used to it. Seriously, stay away from sweet juices

            Even when I don’t drink it for a while, it doesn’t taste super sweet to me (at least with the brands I get). It just seems more acidic than I’m used to. Once again, I think this has to do with adjusting my pH levels more than anything else.

            More on this here:

            In moderation, I’ve found that drinking OJ keeps me immune to illness. Works for me, but YMMV. Who knows, maybe it’s genetic.

        2. Don’t ever look up the story about how ‘not-from-concentrate oj’ is an industry scam, it’s kept in tanks for months and flavoring and vitamins are added back in.  It’ll make you really sad.

          1. Not-from-concentrate is far, far healthier than fresh-squeezed but only a teeny bit better than concentrate. 

            Fresh-squeezed is kinda like poison because is has the essential vibratory gasses squeezed out, among other things.But Obama doesn’t WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS!!!

          2. But seriously Ann, you are absolutely correct by my reckoning.

            I read a blurb about this, then did some additional literature searching and looks like there is no difference at all, except for a small taste difference that causes certain people to prefer one over the other in blind tests. 

          3. Don’t ever look up the story

            I already addressed how they store OJ and add flavoring (from oranges) to compensate for the oxygen issues further down my post you’re replying to.

            I don’t feel “scammed” and it doesn’t make me sad, it just makes me thirsty for my affordable, mass produced orange juice.

            Ethyl butyrate is already in oranges, I have no problem with it being added back in for flavoring. The alternative is wasting time and money squishing oranges, so I’ll stick with this. With my OJ, I haven’t gotten so much as a common cold in many years.

          4. I pity you poor Americans (and everyone else who doesn’t live in Australia actually), you can’t get Juice of Orange Shipped in opaque bottles to prevent ascorbic acid breakdown, picked seasonally (which means the taste changes a bit sometimes, a small price to pay for freshness), it’s basically the best way to get orange juice other than doing it yourself

        3.  Also look for juice in opaque bottles, the clear bottles (which let consumers see how Orange the juice is) let the sunlight in, which breaks down the ascorbic acid, changing the taste and the nutritional content, both of which lead to the addition of extra stuff.

      1. Thanks for the article.  I took a look and agree with it especially here:

        most commercial fruit juice is derived from concentrates, which often results in a higher sugar content than if the product were, say, simply squeezed from oranges.

        That’s why I get “not from concentrate” 100% Orange Juice with high pulp and no sugar added.  I usually drink OJ early in the day so I’m not worried about its calories or what have you.

        I do agree with the article that “fruit juice” is sugary crap and I avoid it.  The only other thing I drink daily is water (I f’n love water) and occasional coffee.

        1. Point is the GI in OJ of any sort is sky high, the sugar in it is the simplest (fructose) and you get the sugar content of 5 or 6 oranges in every glass (if you drink OJ like most americans do). Could you eat 5 or 6 oranges, if someone passed you them peeled and ready to munch? The fiber content is what makes the difference. It fills you up, making the sugar intake much more reasonable. 

          1. if you drink OJ like most americans do

            I suppose I don’t.  I literally drink a couple of swigs every other day.  I get approximately 5 grams of sugar total with my combined swigs.  Even for someone who needs to desperately watch their sugar intake (I’m not one of them), that’s very little sugar.  Meanwhile, I never get sick when I drink my OJ and

            My energy is formidable, baby…

            The photo I took below is where I mountain bike down steep, iron-rich rock formations (rock mixed with dinosaur poop from a Fountain foundation that was pushed to the surface from thousands of feet below) and that’s after riding to the top of a mountain trail nearby and back down again.  And I’m almost as old as the dinosaur poop I’m trouncing upon.

            It works for me. ^_^

            I liketh ma OJ, son………

  6. I used lots of turmeric and cinnamon in my cooking before the anti-oxidant thing became a craze and will continue to do so after the debunking. Typically, when these types of health fads come along, I look at it and if it’s a thing I already do, I think to myself, “Bonus!” and continue to do it. If it’s not something I already do, I promptly ignore it. 

  7. I don’t have references to hand, but I thought it was fairly well known from the 90s onwards that our bodies regulate anti-oxidants so well that ingesting more doesn’t really affect internal levels.
    Sort of like taking extra vitamins, where their main effect is to add colour to your urine!

    1.  “add color to your urine!”

      That’s half the fun.  There’s something satisfying about a bright orange pee.  Makes me proud of my kidneys.  Good job guys!

  8. “Aging and, with that, the entire basis of the antioxidant industrial complex.” What a ridiculous oversimplification.

    Let’s just keep this simple and talk about OTCs. Magnesium has been shown to reduce/prevent tolerance to the amphetamine class, generally (e.g., Adderall/MDMA/Meth). Not everyone is taking antioxidants/prescriptions/herbs to STAY ‘healthy,’ much less young. A great many people are putting their bodies through abnormal stress (oxidative or otherwise), and then using these ‘hooey’ free radicals as a salve. (Or worse, potentiating). Aging may be the least of their worries.

    The kinds of Americans, for instance, who need more vitamin C (yes, literally, scurvy) are NOT the kinds of Americans who are going to show up for a university study. 

    I think it’s ‘let’s-not-inoculate-our-kids’ shitty to imply that vitamins C or B, in particular, are ‘oversold.’ If you take more than you need, sure, they’ll turn your pee yellow. Or if you’re overzealous, the occasional kidney stone. But that’s IT. They’re water-soluble. They’re not going to make your heart explode.

    Oral vitamin D helps SAD depressives, Vitamin E helps acne. Neither is as safe as C in excess, but they’re still very well tolerated. The list goes on and on.

    Bored, healthy housewives may be wasting their money. But this is NOT pseudoscience – at least for the malnourished among us – which, with McDonald’s, etc., is a larger demographic than you might think. Your ‘consumer savvy’ is white people problems. You deign to roll your eyes at meat, carbohydrates, gluten, and now – what – nutrition itself?

    1. When I get a bad cold/flu, I get a multi-vitamin shot from my doctor, and I am amazed by how much better it makes me feel for several days.  My husband got one and said he didn’t notice much difference.  My theory is that I’m vitamin D deficient [or deficient in something in there] and he isn’t.

  9. While the power of antioxidants may be oversold (yay for science for allowing progress), the degradative power of free-radicals is real. I am currently doing research in UV degradation kinetics of B vitamins, and the effects of free radicals (caused by UV degradation of fructose) on their nutritional values. Although still in early stages of research, their values show clear degradation without antioxidants (phenolics) vs “quenched” degradation with phenolics. Maybe the idea that antioxidants will keep you from aging is overstated, but don’t get it twisted…this shit is real.

  10. Vitamin C is one of the best antioxidants I know of, and you can take my megadoses when you pry them from Linus Pauling’s cold dead hands.

    Besides, I thought the benefit of acai and pomegranate et al were the anthocyanins, not the antioxidants.

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