Large review of antioxidant supplement efficacy: strike four! they re out.

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Yawn. We have yet another example of the perpetual conveyor belt of studies seeking, and failing to find, any evidence of health benefits from so-called dietary/nutritional supplements. In the current JAMA, a piece under the rubric clinical evidence synopsis entitled Antioxidant Supplements to Prevent Mortality (we ll get to that title later), experts from the Cochrane Collaboration Group in Copenhagen, Denmark reviewed 78 studies all clinical trials whose goal was to assess antioxidant supplements for prevention of all-cause mortality. (As an aside, we all know, do we not, that mortality cannot in fact be prevented, only delayed; the goal of public health should be to prevent premature mortality).

The group reviewed studies that included almost 300,000 subjects, data from whom were accumulated over the years 1977-2012. The subjects were assessed in primary or secondary prevention trials consisting of healthy participants or those with stable, chronic diseases. The group studied had about the same number of men and women, with a wide age-range. The antioxidant supplements studied were some of the usual suspects: beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. The study was designed to measure the change in all-cause death rate (mortality).

The results will disappoint (but should not surprise) those seeking the Fountain of Youth in a pill or elixir. Overall, the antioxidant supplements were associated with neither higher nor lower mortality; in fact, under a specific type of controlled calculation, there was a slight but statistically significant higher mortality, of about 3 percent.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross said, We await some study by someone, somewhere in some universe, showing the health benefit of any so-called supplement , other than those for clear-cut nutritional deficiency diseases and for pregnant women (e.g. folate to prevent birth defects). But don t hold your breath. The NIH division of Complementary and Alternative Medicine has wasted many millions in this same fruitless endeavor. As I ve said many times, there is no such thing as alternative medicine : it s either medicine, evidence-based or it s faith or magic or snake-oil, period.