Antioxidants: Not Really A Thing

Antioxidants: Not Really A Thing

Turns out that antioxidants may not actually be able to prevent your death. Surprised? I think a lot of people will be. Not that facts ever stopped us. Frankly, I make non-fact-based purchases at the grocery store all the time. Why should this be any different?
The science of antioxidants has always seemed hinky to me. Scientists freely admit that we don't really understand very much about antioxidants and free radicals. It's a shaky base on which to build an empire of pomegranate-flavored juice drinks, wouldn't you think?
The craze for antioxidants began with one researcher in the 1940s. Denham Harman formerly worked for the petroleum industry, where it is well understood and documented that free radicals (loose electrons) cause damage to the product. Surprise surprise, Harman discovered that this was the case with human cells, too.
Saying that free radicals damage human cells is one thing. It makes sense. Sure, I get that. But the jump from this to "free radicals cause aging, so if you can combat them, you will combat aging" has always struck me as being pretty crazy. And checkit: it looks like my instincts were right.
Antioxidant supplements are almost certainly useless. Useless on two counts: it's probably futile to take supplements, because the chemicals will most likely not be absorbed by your body (viz the old standard about vitamins' sole effect being to create expensive pee), and because we poorly understand the role of these chemicals when they have been removed from the complex chemical background in which they are found (i.e. lycopene supplements are useless, but the lycopene you get from eating tomatoes is good for you).
And secondarily useless because antioxidants aren't really helpful, and may in fact turn out to be harmful. Especially when taken regularly, and in the relatively large quantities demanded by many vitamin fanatics.
One thing remains true, though: the items which provide antioxidants are still good things for you to eat. There are a lot of health benefits to be had from eating fresh fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and pomegranates. The closer to natural they are, the better for you - eating actual blueberries is better for you than drinking blueberry juice, which is far better still than taking a blueberry supplement.
Even if the antioxidants themselves don't prevent aging, these fruits and vegetables contain tons of nutrients, trace elements, as well as valuable fiber. So you should still eat your fruits and veggies! Just don't expect them to prevent you from aging.