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 went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. 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 Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. 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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Latest Comments

  1. » Tinkr Lnks for 5/30/09
    [...] Anti oxidants - do we need them [...]

  2. Susanna Minkins says:

    Definitely consider that which you stated. Your favourite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to take note of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed at the same time as people think about issues that they just don’t realize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and outlined out the whole thing without having side effect , folks could take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thank you

  3. Henry K says:

    How do you feel about ph levels? example: the average can of soda has a really low ph level of 2-3 ph…. Is this really bad for your body? Will this significantly effect your appearance and health overtime?

  4. Adam C. says:

    While you make fair points in the main, several vitamins are called “anti-oxidants” , and are by definition vitamins are things we need our body can’t produce itself. So… yeah, I’m afraid that this isn’t really accurate; and I don’t think the best way to deal with false information is alternate incorrect information; better to deal with the facts – we need Vitamins, but do not more than the RDA unless your doctor says you do.

  5. The Doc says:

    Humans and guinea pigs lack the enzyme that converts L-gulonolactone to 2-keto-L-gulonolactone which is required for the biosynthesis of ascorbic acid, L-ascorbic acid, and L-dehydroascorbic acid which are all equivalent because of the reduction of the dehydroascorbate to ascorbate in the body. It turns out that the enolic hydroxyl groups dissaociate in normal physiologic range and is one of the strongest naturally occurring REDUCING agents known. But let us be very clear the in vivo (in people) role of ascorbate as a reductant in non enzymatic reactions is not established. Hence the role of ascorbic acid in a test tube is far from its biologic or in vivo activity. Scurvy comes from inadequate or abnormal collagen synthesis, which happens when you do not have the ascorbate to enhance the prolyl and lysyl hydroxylase activities – resulting in poorly formed collagen and the skin lesions, bone fractures, and etc. Vitamin C is an antioxidant , but it is called a vitamin because humans cannot make it and we depend on ascorbate to act as a reductant in certain cellular/biochemical pathways. Nor or are vitamins called vitamins because they are anti-oxidants. Oxidation is a necessary and useful process for the body to survive and if we were to be able to “overwhelm” the system with anti-oxidants we would die within minutes or be overwhelmed with sepsis from bacteria. We do need vitamins- and oxidation and reduction pathways are our basic biochemical reactions- they, however, are not what the health wizards like Dr. Oz are talking about – if indeed they even understand what they are talking about.The best way to deal with false information is to give real information and facts. We do need vitamins, but there has not ever been a role established for supplementation with anti-oxidants. In fact, with Vitamin C if there is too much, the reductant can harm DNA – thus, too much of Vitamin C can be harmful. (I know Linus Pauling is turning over in his grave)

  6. Edgar Hernandez says:

    I’m curious, based on your article on anti-oxidants supplements not helping.
    What’s your take on GMO foods? Have you researched the pros and cons on this topic? Have you written any articles on this topic? My guess would be, your are advocate for GMO foods? Any help would be great.

    Just Curious,

  7. Dr Simpson says:

    You might have to look beyond the first page of the blog – difficult, but go to the bottom of the home page and go to page 2 — or you could search the blog. Simple – no, then I can’t help you.

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