By: Micheal Greger, MD, Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States..
The USDA recently removed their online antioxidant database of foods, concerned that ORAC values were routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products. Indeed, supplement manufacturer’s got into my-orac-is-bigger-than-your-orac pissing contests, comparing their pills to the antioxidant superfood du jour, like blueberries, and we know there’re lots of bioactive compounds in whole plant foods that may help prevent and ameliorate chronic disease in ways that have nothing to do with their antioxidant power, so I understand their decision. So should we just eat lots of whole healthy plant foods and not worry about which one necessarily has more antioxidants than the other, or does one’s dietary antioxidant intake matter?
We have some new data one some of our top killers. Dietary total antioxidant capacity and the risk of stomach cancer, the world’s second leading cancer killer. A half million people studied, and dietary antioxidant capacity intake from different sources of plant foods was associated with a reduction in risk. Note they say dietary intake; they’re not talking about supplements.
Not only do antioxidant pills not seem to help, they seem to increase overall mortality, it’s like you’re paying to live a shorter life. Just giving high doses of isolated vitamins may cause disturbances in your body’s own natural antioxidant network, and there are hundreds of different antioxidants in plant foods. They don’t act in isolation; they work synergistically. Mother nature cannot be trapped in a bottle.
Similar results were recently reported with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the more ORAC units you eat per day, the lower your cancer risk drops, though antioxidants or not, greens were particularly protective. Look at that. You go from eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per week to a serving a day, that may cut one’s odds of lymphoma in half.
Should we be worried about antioxidant intake during cancer treatment, since most chemo drugs work by creating free radicals? According to some of the latest reviews, there is no evidence of antioxidant interference with chemotherapy, and in fact they may actually improve treatment and patient survival.
But should we take a multivitamin? See Should We Take a Multivitamin?
What about fish oil supplements? Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?
I recently covered how and why we should strive to eat antioxidants with every meal in an important three-part series:
- Minimum “Recommended Daily Allowance” of Antioxidants
- How to Reach the Antioxidant “RDA”
- Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal
Preferentially getting one’s nutrients from produce not pills is a common theme in the nutrition literature. See, for example:
- Are Iron Pills Good for You?
- Can Folic Acid Be Harmful?
- Produce, Not Pills to Increase Physical Attractiveness
- Greens vs. Glaucoma
- Cranberries versus Cancer
- Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet
- Optimal Phytosterol Source
Antioxidants may also slow aging, reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and help prevent COPD. So where are antioxidants found? See my series that starts with Antioxidant Content of 3139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.
What about the role of antioxidants in other leading causes of death? That’s the subject of my next video, Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.
About Michael Greger M.D.Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.