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The Truth About Antioxidants

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Should you take Vitamin E? What's the best source of Vitamin C? What are flavonoids anyway? We've got the answers.

Good or Bad?

Amazing. Miraculous. Lifesaving. Until recently, these were just some of the superlatives used to describe the disease-fighting compounds called anti-oxidants. And health-food-store hucksters weren’t the only ones spouting them either. Top scientists at Harvard, Penn State, Tufts and other institutions issued a slew of studies showing that antioxidants could work wonders by neutralizing free radicals—wayward oxygen-carrying molecules that damage cells, leading to cancer, heart disease, memory loss, even wrinkles. Soon it seemed like everyone from your internist to your Aunt Tillie was popping vitamin E pills and drinking gallons of green tea. Then the reports turned unfavorable, even scary. One study showed that vitamin E supplements, once touted as a potent weapon against heart disease, had no benefit. Another trial designed to test the anticancer potential of beta-carotene found that high-dose pills actually raised lung cancer risk in certain people.

Vitamin C

Research showing that vitamin C can damage cells’ DNA has received a lot of attention, but these studies were done in test tubes, not people. Most experts say vitamin C is safe in moderate doses. And many people appear to be skimping on C. Experts say 20 to 30 percent of Americans may have low levels in their blood and up to 16 percent may be deficient. In a British study done last year, men and women with high blood levels of C had about half the risk of dying from heart disease, cancer and other ailments than those with low levels. In addition, C protects against cataracts. In a 14-year study of 478 women, Tufts University researchers found that those who took vitamin C supplements reduced their risk of developing cataracts by a third.

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