Current Weather
The Spy FM

More Antioxidants In Your Diet May Not Mean Better Health

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
February 21, 2013

Antioxidants in foods are good for you, so more should be better, right?

Evidently not.

In a new study, people who ate more antioxidants overall didn’t lower their risk of stroke and dementia in old age. That flies in the face of earlier research that found that the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables reduce stroke and dementia risk.

“We’re seeing strong and clear benefits with specific antioxidants, but not overall,” says Elizabeth Devore, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the new study, which was published online in the journal Neurology.

Last year, Devore found that eating lots of berries delayed cognitive decline among women in the big, ongoing Nurses Health Study. Berries have lots of chemicals called flavonoids, which researchers think probably have protective powers much like those of better-known antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Before that, Devore had looked at data from a long-term study of more than 5,000 people ages 55 and older in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The people were followed for about 14 years. She found that people who ate foods with more vitamin E were less likely to suffer dementia, and people who ate foods with more vitamin C were less likely to have a stroke.

But now she’s looking at the same people, and finds that having lots of antioxidants in the diet overall don’t help with stroke and dementia. What gives?

Devore tells The Salt that she re-ran the numbers from the earlier Rotterdam study, just to make sure she hadn’t made a mistake, and it still showed that vitamins C and E were doing good things for the brain.

In the new study, the people with the highest levels of antioxidant intake were getting most of those antioxidants from coffee and tea. Evidently, the Dutch drink a lot of coffee!

Coffee and tea are “actually chock-full of antioxidants,” Devore says, in the form of flavonoids.

And other studies on people in Europe have found that drinking a lot of coffee, say five cups a day, does help protect against Alzheimer’s. But similar benefits didn’t appear in the coffee-loving Dutch group in Devore’s study, which leads her to suspect that total levels of antioxidant intake isn’t the whole story. “It’s nuance,” she says.

An Italian study from 2011 also showed less stroke risk in people who had a high-antioxidant diet overall. But in that case, the people were getting their antioxidants from wine, fruits and vegetables, Devore says. That’s very different than the diet of the Dutch study participants, who ate a lot of meat and dairy, and fewer vegetables and fruit.

Scientists have just started to really dig into the relationship between flavonoids and health, thanks to a big new USDA database on the still largely mysterious chemicals.

That should help resolve the confusion over the merits of antioxidants, Devore says. “As we’re able to move into these more nontraditional antioxidant foods, we’ll be able to tease out more specific information for people.” [Copyright 2013 NPR]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center