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Antioxidants for Anti-Aging

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Updated January 18, 2013

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Antioxidants are one of the dietary supplements most often touted as a natural anti-aging product. Proponents suggest that increasing your intake of antioxidants may help slow the aging process and prevent a number of aging-related diseases (including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's). However, few scientific studies have provided proof of the anti-aging effects of antioxidants.

The Theory of Antioxidants and Anti-Aging

Found naturally in many fruits, vegetables, and other foods, antioxidants help knock out free radicals (chemical byproducts known to damage cells). When free radicals overwhelm cells, the cells are unable to recover from free-radical-induced damage. Known as oxidative stress, this process is thought to promote aging. By combating free radicals, antioxidants are thought to fight oxidative stress (and, in turn, produce an anti-aging effect).

The Science Behind Antioxidants and Aging

Laboratory experiments on cells have shown that antioxidants may help counter oxidative stress and offer anti-aging benefits. In addition, data from population studies indicate that people with a higher intake of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits may have a lower risk of some chronic diseases linked to aging. However, few clinical trials to date have tested the anti-aging effects of antioxidants.

Despite the overall lack of human-based research on antioxidants and anti-aging, there's some evidence that antioxidants may help guard against age-related macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States). In a clinical trial published in 2001, researchers followed 3,640 participants with age-related macular degeneration for an average of 6.3 years. Results showed that those who took a combination of antioxidants and zinc in supplement form had a 25 percent reduced risk of developing advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration (compared to those assigned to a placebo).

Should You Take Antioxidants for Aging?

Due to the lack of research supporting the anti-aging effects of antioxidants, it's too soon to recommend antioxidant supplements as a means of promoting longevity. What's more, some studies suggest that taking antioxidants in excessive doses may have negative health effects. However, following an antioxidant-rich diet (high in fruits, vegetables, and other antioxidant-packed foods) may offer a wide range of health benefits. If you're considering the use of antioxidants for anti-aging (or any other health purposes), make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.

Sources:

Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. "A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8." Arch Ophthalmol. 2001 Oct;119(10):1417-36.

Bonnefoy M, Drai J, Kostka T. "Antioxidants to slow aging, facts and perspectives." Presse Med. 2002 Jul 27;31(25):1174-84.

De la Fuente M. "Effects of antioxidants on immune system ageing." Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Aug;56 Suppl 3:S5-8.

De la Fuente M, Miquel J. "An update of the oxidation-inflammation theory of aging: the involvement of the immune system in oxi-inflamm-aging." Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15(26):3003-26.

Fusco D, Colloca G, Lo Monaco MR, Cesari M. "Effects of antioxidant supplementation on the aging process." Clin Interv Aging. 2007;2(3):377-87.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Antioxidant Supplements for Health: An Introduction". NCCAM Publication No. D450. May 2010.

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