Antioxidants and disease: more questions than answers
Temple, Norman J.
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Reactive oxygen species are widely believed to be involved in the etiology of many diseases as indicated by the signs of oxidative stress seen in those diseases. Conversely, antioxidants are believed to be protective. An important part of the supporting evidence is the consistently-seen inverse association between, on the one hand, intake of B-carotene and vitamin C and of fruit and vegetables, and, on the other hand, risk of cancer and coronary heart disease (CHD). However, the failure of supplemental p-carotene to prevent these diseases in intervention trials suggests that the associations for that nutrient reflect confounding rather than cause and effect. With respect to other antioxidants there is inconsistent evidence that supplements of vitamin E may have some ability to prevent cancer and CHD while selenium may prevent cancer. Overall, the role of oxidative stress in disease, especially cancer and CHD, has probably been overstated; other components of the diet (other nutrients, phytochemicals and dietary fiber) likely play a significantly greater role The possible benefits of supplements are discussed.