BEIJING — Fear of mortality is one reason Americans spend so much on “antioxidant” products, including Vitamin C supplements and beta-carotene, which promise a longer healthier life. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than half of adults in the U.S. consume some kind of antioxidant product, spending $37 billion each year.
Rather than extending longevity, researchers say they trigger a stress reaction which causes the body to age more rapidly.
In other words, those expensive life-enhancers may actually be killing you.
Researchers discovered the relationship by studying how oxidants affected worms and human cells at various stages of development. Oxidants, it turned out, had no measurable impact on aging.
But introducing antioxidants disturbed the mechanism in cells that resists aging and as a result, the cells began aging more rapidly — “unnaturally fast,” said Chen Chang, the lead scientist on the project at the Institute of Biophysics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
Chang and her team are especially concerned about their findings because of the widespread use of antioxidants among Chinese youth.
“More and more ‘white collar workers’ in their 20s are taking pills containing antioxidants such as Vitamin C and tea polyphenols. They must stop,” Chang told the South China Morning Post.
But older people are also more likely to die faster due to supplements, they found. Chang recommended that anti-oxidant use in China and elsewhere be curtailed.
The Chinese study appears to confirm the results of a 2008 “meta-review” of 405 studies comparing the longevity of people that consumed various kinds of vitamin supplements with those that took only a placebo.
That review, conducted by top medical researchers in Denmark, found no significant differences in the mortality rates of the two groups.
So far, none of these new studies has put a dent in the multi-billion dollar vitamin and supplement industry, which continues to promote the presumed anti-aging benefits of its products.
And there is little evidence that consumers are paying attention, either – or if they are, that they care.
But the evidence against antioxidants is mounting.
Another medical study conducted last year found that overuse of Vitamin D supplements was associated with a higher risk of falls in men and in women 70 years and older.
Apparently, Nature is sending a message: Stop trying to reset your biological clock.
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