Anti-oxidants: Do We Need Them?

Rust is from oxidation of the iron. But oxidation doesn’t mean aging for people

Oxidation is something that most of us see in life — when we leave some iron out and it rusts – that is oxidation. There is a theory that the stress of oxidation leads to many diseases including heart disease, cancer, and even aging. As a result, there has been a rush of studies examining the role of anti-oxidants and to see if diets rich in anti-oxidants will show a decrease in those disease.

But before we rush to buy the latest anti-oxidant capsule, berry, fish, or whatever – think about some of the things that are positive about oxidants.  Ok – yes, you need the oxidants to wash your clothes. Nothing like some oxy-clean to whiten the stains. But, the body uses oxidation in a variety of ways that are useful.

When a bacteria is encountered by white blood cells (poly morphonuclear leukocytes) they use oxidation to destroy the microbe. When the body encounters a cell that isn’t behaving quite right – oxidation is used to get rid of it.

A white cell uses oxidation to kill harmful bacteria

The gray hair so many color– it is gray because of the “bleaching” effect of anti-oxidants. Ok- maybe that isn’t a great example, but it does provide protection for the scalp – in spite of whatever toxic materials people put on their head to make it pretty.

Then there is the matter of ingesting the anti-oxidant.  Did you ever wonder how long it takes the stomach to inactivate it? About a nano-second. So you are eating something you think is good for you – -and in a nano-second is inactivated by your wonderful stomach trying to protect you from doing yourself harm.

We have a balance in our bodies– those things that can help us- oxidation against bacteria and cancer – -can harm us if it runs wild. Just like our immune system can turn against us.

So before you buy the Pom-Wow or any other drink claiming to provide anti-oxidation, drink it because you enjoy the taste of  it – not because of its anti-oxidation powers..

You want your body to oxidize some things (my hair, now the true platinum color) – you want to kill invading bacteria, cells that go wild (unlike the teenage daughter who wants to go to Mexico for spring break – although oxidizing the boys in Mexico might be a good thing).

Want to learn more nerdy stuff about anti-oxidants– well, I could do that, but it is Saturday morning and I am a bit tired. Suffice to say – here are a few simple facts:

(a) oxidation is a part of the cycle of life and if we don’t have it basic chemical process that keep us alive will not work

(b) oxidation is good for your bodies protection

(c) people who sell you this fad stuff are usually in some pyramid scheme, or not giving you all the facts

(d) most of the anti-oxidants you ingest will not survive past your stomach and if they could you may change the balance of your body in a way that you would not intend

(e) all of the studies done so far show that the addition of anti-oxidants do not have a beneficial effect for your heart, to prevent cancer, or to increase lifespan.

So, if you like Pom-wow – drink it. But don’t think you really need it otherwise. I like Pom-Wow, but I also like red wine. I wonder if the cops will stop me for driving under the influence of anti-oxidants?

Not only is there no evidence that antioxidant supplements prevent disease or ameliorate disease – there is evidence that some supplements increase mortality, especially Beta-carotene and vitamin E.

Here is a good reference from a group that checks with evidence based medicine

Cocharane Database Syst Rev 2012

You can find it by the Pub Med ID 22419320

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit


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