Vitamin Supplements: Anti-Oxidant or Anti-Health?

Posted by OSKi
2014.03.09 20:10 EDITORIAL/정보 :: Information

(This column is written by BerkOp's newest English columnist Jaeho Paek.)


           Let’s say today is your grandfather’s birthday. What would you gift him? Well, not a Lego package I bet. How about a brand-new laptop? Maybe, if your wallet’s fat enough (but I highly doubt this would be the case for most college students). Or why not buy him multi-vitamin supplements? Supplements aren’t too expensive and they should be good for his health, right? Besides, it’s common sense that fully nourishing your body with vitamin supplements can lead to healthier lives.

            Pharmaceutical companies stress the importance of vitamins as antioxidants. The logic is the following: there are reactive oxygen species inevitably produced in cells due to the metabolism of our bodies and in order to get rid of these species, pharmaceutical companies recommend taking vitamins- the antioxidants.  This reasoning is understood to be “solid” by the public and the pharmaceutical industry has flourished. Indeed, a Gallup poll conducted last year shows that half of Americans report regularly taking vitamins or other mineral supplements. Thanks to the widespread support of vitamin supplements, multivitamin industry has grown in the past few decades to be a multi-billion powerhouse in the U.S.



First, what has brought this general, almost fanatic support for vitamin supplements? At least some responsibility lies with Linus Pauling, the only person who won two undivided Nobel Prizes (for Chemistry, 1954, and for Peace, 1962). Pauling is one of the founding fathers in fields of quantum chemistry and molecular biology: on the book published in 1939, The Nature of the Chemical Bond, Pauling established concepts of orbital hybridization, elucidated ionic bonding, and illuminated the structure of aromatic hydrocarbons.

            Beneath the reputation as a stellar scientist hides the unjustifiable quackery.

Pauling advocated the use of high-dose vitamin C to cure colds and other diseases. In 1968, he stated that to maintain good health, people need amounts of micronutrients far greater than the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs). In addition, Pauling established the field of orthomolecular medicine.

And he speculated that megadoses of certain vitamins and minerals might as well be the treatment of choice for some forms of mental illnesses. He termed this approach "orthomolecular," meaning "right molecule." After that, he gradually grew the number of illnesses he believed that could be remedied by "orthomolecular" therapy. The approach is oftentimes referred to as megavitamin therapy because it stems from prescription of vitamins many times higher than the recommended dietary intake. No responsible medical scientists share this view.

            However, obvious lack of evidence did not hinder the spread of quackery because it was no one but the famous biochemist Linus Pauling backing it. When someone well known to be smarter than others make a false argument, it is extremely difficult to provide a rebuttal for the argument because the skeptics have to fight not only the argument itself but also the name, the reputation of the person who makes the argument.

            But the time has come to question the validity of this common belief. The National Academy of Sciences, in 2000, refutes the supposedly preventive effect of taking antioxidants—including vitamins A, C, and E—on chronic diseases. The report stated that there is simply not enough evidence to accept vitamin supplement advocates’ claim.

In 2007, researchers at University of Washington, Seattle studied 2,969 participants aged 65 and older without cognitive impairment to examine whether the use of vitamins C or E alone or in combination was associated with lower incidence of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease—reactive oxygen species are known to be a possible cause of these diseases. However, the study concludes that the use of supplemental vitamin E and C, alone or in combination, did not reduce risk of these diseases.

            On top of these studies, Researchers at Copenhagen University, in 2008, studied 230,000 healthy people taking multivitamin supplements and concluded that there is no convincing evidence that multivitamin supplement consumption helped lengthening life expectancy. Moreover, they reported some “increase in mortality,” not a decrease.



            So the question is, why? Why aren’t these antioxidants making us healthier, or in some cases, are these antioxidants making us unhealthier? Reactive oxygen species—including hydrogen peroxide, superoxide, and hydroxyl radical—are commonly blamed for causing a variety of oxidative damages in cells. They are thought to harm by oxidizing membranes, proteins, and importantly DNA and thus result in oxidative stress. Reactive oxygen species bring widespread panic, especially because their nonspecific oxidation of DNA is believed to be one of the main causes of carcinogenesis. And vitamins have been proven to reduce oxidative stress by eliminating reactive oxygen species.

            However, there are scientific papers published that suggest these reactive oxygen species actually play fruitful, not harmful, roles in cells. For instance, Professor Christopher Chang’s lab in Berkeley has proven that hydrogen peroxide is actually produced in mitochondria for its use in brain-cell signaling. Also, hydrogen peroxide is responsible for mediating rapid wound detection in living organisms. It is widely known that immune cells produce hydrogen peroxide in great quantity to kill harmful bacteria in blood. Thus, it is highly likely that other reactive oxygen species have important functions in the cells as well.

            To recap, the loophole of taking vitamin supplement is that even though the experiments conducted in controlled, test tube environment prove vitamins’ role as antioxidants, that cannot justify the promotion of consuming excess vitamins through supplements because the “real results” based on what happened to human subjects tell us otherwise. And as more and more useful functions of reactive oxygen species in cellular environment are discovered, the validity of consuming excess antioxidants to eliminate them is inevitably questioned.

            Of course, the importance of vitamins in the body is not being questioned. They are essential for the function of countless enzymes in cells and for metabolism. Without enough supply of vitamins, no human can survive. But most people already eat enough vegetables and fruits and thus consume enough vitamins for health. Hence they should all strongly reconsider use of vitamin supplements.

To continue the debate from the first paragraph, why not buy your grandfather a pack of apples instead? Apples contain enough vitamins for health and I assure you, they are much tastier than vitamin supplements. 

전주운석 이남기 싸이 관련주 세븐나이츠 박인비 프로농구 플레이오프 싸이 컴백 유성우 300 에바그린 수원 유성

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  1. 비타민 C 처럼 도움되는 글이군요! 잘 읽었습니다.

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