Antioxidants May Not be as Effective as We Think

Antioxidants, specifically resveratrol, have been touted as the miracle cure for everything from cancer to aging, wrinkles, and other health conditions. From red wine to facial creams many companies have jumped onto the antioxidant bandwagon. The question is, however, does the research support these conclusions?

The answer to this is ambiguous at best. Resveratrol correlates with positive biological outcomes, but those outcomes have not been well documented in human models.

According to Dr. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, “Epidemiologic studies can find associations between the consumption of foods or dietary supplements and various health outcomes. Resveratrol has not been tested in clinical trials, and most clinical trials of other antioxidants have failed to demonstrate the benefits suggested by preliminary studies.”

As with any study, correlation is not causation. While certain compounds may correlate with positive biological changes, it does not necessarily mean that the compound in question is the agent of change.

Furthermore, in the case of resveratrol, most studies have been done in animal or cell culture models and not in humans. Because resveratrol is quickly metabolized by the body, and the metabolites do not have the same effects as the original compound, it is difficult to say whether the observed effects of resveratrol in animal models or in cell culture will occur in humans.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU, red wine contains resveratrol and even higher levels of flavonoids. These polyphenolic compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other potentially anti-atherogenic effects in the test tube and in some animal models of atherosclerosis. However, it is not yet known whether increased consumption of polyphenols from red wine provides any protection from cardiovascular disease beyond that associated with its alcohol content.

Compounding the hype around resveratrol was the recent dismissal of Dipak K. Das, PhD, the director of the University of Connecticut’s Cardiovascular Research Center, for data fabrication in studies on the antioxidant. Dr. Das’ dismissal for fraud regarding the effects of these and other antioxidants casts a shadow over the claims about resveratrol. While there are clearly potential benefits from the molecule, it is not the wonderkid some had hoped it would be.

by William Tatum