For decades scientists have been looking for what causes such things as heart disease and cancer, and although not the only cause, there is mounting evidence pointing towards the free radicals in the body.
Free radicals are naturally produced in the body, although we can consume them in foods such as red meat. There is now evidence that antioxidants help to stop cellular damage by these unstable molecules.
Nature usually has an answer for everything, and in the case of antioxidants it hasn’t let us down. Although the way that antioxidants in our body protect us from cancer are currently only theories, it is also believed that cleaning up free radicals helps reverse, or can at least slow down the aging process.
So what are these natural antioxidants? Well you probably include them as part of your diet already, they include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Although we already have plenty of evidence that these are good for us, there are no trials at the moment about their antioxidant effect on aging.
Back in the 90’s, a number of trials based on clinical rules were carried out, and results were inconclusive. The tests compared different groups, each taking antioxidants including beta-carotene. Research into cancer cells in the lab on the other hand has shown that antioxidants do help prevent cancer growth, however, when this was applied to trials, again, results were inconclusive.
A Chinese study on people who were predisposed to get gastric cancer, were given beta carotene, selenium, and vitamin C, in order to see if they made any difference over the longer term. Once the data was collated it did show positive effects, and that the chances of these people contracting gastric cancer, was significantly reduced.
We all know that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, and so a Finish study in 1994 showed that rates of the disease were not lowered when a smoker had a course of antioxidants. The ones used were vitamin E and beta-carotene.
However, those who just took beta-carotene ended up having a high risk of contracting lung cancer. A totally separate study in the same year also showed the same results.
All the results coming in were just making the waters cloudier, and another study in the United States conducted in 1996 on men, showed that taking aspirin and the antioxidant beta-carotene, had no benefit.
Following on from that, in 1996, women took beta-carotene and vitamin E to see if it had any effect on cardiovascular disease and cancer. Both of these results show that there was no difference to the overall statistics, so the trials showed no positive or negative result. However, studies into vitamin E as an antioxidant still continue.
It needs to be pointed out, that much larger and detailed clinical trials are required, and until recently, no one was prepared to put up the money, as clinical trials are very expensive. With so many different results between all of the above trials, they do not conclusively give a result one way or the other.
With so much interest into antioxidants in recent years, there are now three trials underway.
• The Woman’s Health Study – This is looking into using antioxidants into the prevention in cancer. Participants are over 45 years old, and all women. They are all taking vitamin E.
• Physicians Health Study Phase 2 – This is looking into multivitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E in the prevention of prostate cancer in men. This trial follows on from Phase 1.
• The final trial is taking place in Puerto Rico, USA and Canada. This is testing people who are taking vitamin E and/or selenium, and essential minerals, to see if it has any effect on prostate cancer in men over 50.
With these trials now approaching their end game, the scientific data will be available for study within the near future. Hopefully, they will shine some light on the positive effects of antioxidants.
Natural Sources of Antioxidants
If you are wondering how you can take beta-carotene for yourself, then you can buy it in health stores as a tablet, as you can do with many antioxidants. However, it is much better if you consume foods that contain antioxidants naturally.
Beta-carotene is found in carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes and many others that are orange in color.
Vitamin C everyone knows about and is found in oranges, lemons and plenty of other fruit and vegetables.
While vitamin E is in such things as nut and broccoli.
Lycopene is an antioxidant found in watermelon, pink grapefruit and tomatoes, and things like kale, cabbage and spinach contain Lutein.
Although the proof of whether antioxidants help with the prevention of cancer is inconsistent, we do know that they clean up the free radicals in our body. Even if they do not prevent cancer, they still offer many other health benefits.