Antioxidants – I still think they are good for the skin

antioxidant-supplements

A lot of people, me included, are of the opinion that antioxidants are a good thing.  But are we right?  The Guardian ran an article recently pointing out that there was no evidence that antioxidant supplements reduce the risk of cancer.  This was based on a Cochrane review that looked at a whole range of studies and analysed the numbers from all of them.

Despite involving very nearly 300,000 people and using diligent statistical techniques, they failed to show any reduced risk of dying if you take antioxidants.  In fact, although both the Guardian and the Cochrane Review play this down, the people on the antioxidants died in greater numbers than the ones on placebo. The difference was about 3% overall, and 4% in some of the studies.

They are being pretty reasonable in not jumping to conclusions.  I think even after a study of this size it is too soon to conclude that antioxidant supplements are positively harmful.  But when you think about it, it perhaps isn’t that hard a thing to believe.   We all oxidise the food we eat to give us the energy to get through the day.  If you could find a really effective antioxidant and add it to food you would stop the body from being able to use it.   Ultimately it would starve you to death.  So maybe antioxidants aren’t such a good idea.

The study I’m talking about is specifically about supplements, so it doesn’t cover antioxidant rich fruits like blueberries.   But there is no evidence that antioxidants in fruit form work any better than antioxidants in tablets.  In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much data at all supporting or disproving our generally accepted notions of what constitutes a healthy diet. I’d say that it is entirely possible that eating an antioxidant rich fruit is good for you while eating the same antioxidants concentrated into a pill might be bad for you.  But it would not be especially surprising if it turned out to be the other way around.  But I think I can justify my continued belief that fresh fruit is beneficial.

The saying in toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. Taking a pill is one way of getting a big dose over a short period of time. So it isn’t too far fetched to suggest that the lower quantity and concentration of antioxidants in an apple are better than a pill containing more actual antioxidant.   I think all the time I am basically healthy I am going to avoid anything in pill form, be it a mineral, vitamin or an antioxidant.

But how about products for the skin that contain antioxidants.  Is it possible that they will turn out to be a bad thing as well?  I think it is unlikely.  The body’s workhorse antioxidant is vitamin E.  And thirty percent of the body’s vitamin E is deployed in the skin. The skin is exposed to oxygen all the time, and is in a constant struggle against it.  I think that there is a good case that even if it doesn’t help elsewhere in the body, it may well still help hold back ageing in the skin.

But nobody has done a really big study yet, so like everyone else all I can do is guess.

 



Cochrane Review of Antioxidants

 

2 thoughts on “Antioxidants – I still think they are good for the skin

  1. Phaedra

    I feel that antioxidants are a must for healthy skin! I’ve been using a topical Vit C serum for well over 10 years now. A few years after beginning use, I started training for a marathon so I was out in the sun a lot. Each morning I put the serum on my face and I am in the habit of putting the remainder on the backs of my hands. After weeks of running outside – of course using sunscreen as well – my hands were significantly lighter than my arms! I used the same sunscreen on my and hands and arms, but it was only my hands that got the C. It was a very distinct difference, almost as it I had worn gloves….

  2. Vivian Rowe

    This is a very interesting article. Since it’s not yet totally proven that anti-oxidants don’t have real positive effects on our skin, I will not believe on initial studies. I wonder who funded these studies.

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