Antioxidants Do/Do Not Work

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An important new piece of evidence may explain some of the controversy surrounding antioxidants and heart disease. A protein called haptoglobin may modify the effect of antioxidants. Only people with one form of the gene for that protein benefited, while those with another form got worse, and the other group showed no real effect.

Almost 300 women were given 800 IU of vitamin E and 1000 mg vitamin C daily for 2.8 years. They had angiograms of the coronary arteries done at the beginning and end of the study to measure changes in the diameter of their arteries. Those with type 1-1 of the gene showed a significant benefit, type 2-1 showed no change, and type 2-2 had worsening of their arteries. The study appeared in the April 2004 issue of Diabetes Care (see

HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Haptoglobin is a protein in the blood that binds to free hemoglobin and returns it to the liver for metabolism. Most people do not have the form of haptoglobin that was in the women who benefited from antioxidants. Only 14% of Caucasians and 26% of African-Americans are that type. So your antioxidant pills may be doing more harm than good.

This piece is reprinted from the May 11, 2004 edition of: