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Vital Vitamin News

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Popping pills to boost our intakes of vitamins and minerals might seem like a healthy habit to get into. But according to new research, we could actually be doing more harm to ourselves than good.

Scientists from Denmark recently analysed a large number of trials that looked at the role antioxidant nutrients play in health and wellbeing.

The scientists discovered that in 47 trials, including more than 180,000 people, those who took vitamins A and E and beta-carotene had a five percent greater risk of dying than those people who didn’t take supplements. Two other antioxidant nutrients – vitamin C and selenium – didn’t appear to increase the risk of death. But only selenium was found to have some benefit, although the researchers believe further studies are needed before any definite conclusions can be made.

Goran Bjelakovic who led the study, says, “Our systemic review contains a number of findings. Beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E, given singly or combined with other antioxidant supplements, significantly increase mortality. There is no evidence that vitamin C may increase longevity. Selenium tended to reduce mortality, but we need more research on this question.”

WLR says:

This is an important study and confirms that it’s probably better to get the nutrients we need for good health from food rather than supplements.

It’s clear that more research is needed to confirm or refute these findings. Some scientists have said this analysis is flawed because more than two thirds of the studies included people with heart disease, cancer or other health problems and it’s generally well established that antioxidants don’t actually help to treat diseases once they already exist.

Antioxidants are natural substances found in some foods that help to combat the effects of potentially harmful molecules called free radicals. These free radicals are created naturally as a side effect of metabolism but levels can increase dramatically when we are exposed to health baddies such as cigarette smoke or pollution.

This is bad news because free radicals have the potential to damage cells increasing the risk of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease and even premature ageing. That’s why experts say it’s so important to eat plenty of foods that contain antioxidants – quite simply, the more antioxidants we have in our diet, the more potential we have to fight harmful free radicals.

Research shows that individual nutrients given in supplement form are less likely to promote health when compared to the combination of nutrients supplied by Mother Nature in whole foods – and some studies have even shown that antioxidant nutrients given in supplement form can actually increase the risk of disease.

A panel of experts from the American Heart Association back this up by concluding that to reduce the risk of heart disease it’s better to get antioxidants from foods such as fruits and vegetables, than from taking supplements.

There’s really no need to pop a pill when you can get all the nutrients you need from delicious meals made with fresh, flavoursome ingredients.

Sources of antioxidant vitamins in food:

Nutrient Where to find it
Selenium Meat, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds
Vitamin A Whole milk, cheese, butter, egg yolk, liver, oily fish and margarine
Beta-carotene Dark green vegetables like spinach and watercress, and yellow, orange and red fruits like carrots, tomatoes, dried apricots, sweet potatoes and mangoes
Vitamin C Blackcurrants, berries, green leafy vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach and broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits and their juices
Vitamin E Vegetable oils, margarine, avocado, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, eggs and wholegrains

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