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   Aug 25

Anti-ageing pills and creams that may just make you look OLDER

Antioxidant supplements are often unnecessary

Evidence is emerging that shows they may also do more harm than good

Supplementary vits C and E can switch off body’s ability to protect itself

Vitamins are good for us. We have grown up with this as a basic fact of health. That’s why it seems like common sense to take supplements and to use creams with vitamins C and E to keep our skin looking young.

These vitamins have gained renown for working as antioxidants. Supplement-makers promise that antioxidants protect the cells that make up our skin and internal organs from being damaged by free radicals – molecules produced by our bodies as we process oxygen, which can also be inhaled from polluted air and cigarettes. They claim that this damage is a significant cause of ageing.

However, disturbing evidence is emerging that shows antioxidant supplements are not only often unnecessary, they may also do more harm than good.

New studies reveal that taking supplementary vitamins C and E can switch off the body’s ability to protect itself against disease and damage – increasing our danger of premature death. These two vitamins may even prevent us benefiting from exercise.

Vitamins C and E are key to the multi-million-pound anti-ageing beauty industry, which markets them as a magical ‘elixir of youth’. But a new investigation has reported that they can instead make skin age faster.

It has been thought that free radicals can break down our cells’ protective membranes and damage the DNA inside. This in turn may make the cells age faster, as well as increasing the risk of cancerous mutations developing.

However, the California-based Buck Institute for Research on Ageing this month published work suggesting that free radicals are essential for skin healing and healthy regeneration in people under 50.

When the scientists bred mice with excess free radicals, they expected to see their skin wrinkle prematurely. But instead the opposite happened: their skin quality improved.

Dr Michael Velarde, the study’s lead author, says that while scientists previously believed free radicals to be harmful to skin, it seems that nature has harnessed their powers to ‘optimise skin health’ – though the precise workings of the process are not yet understood.

It is only once we pass the age of 50 that our cells’ energy stores get depleted and wear out, and the free radicals’ benefit ebbs away, the researchers said. So women under 50 who use vitamins C and E to keep their skin young may actually be making it age faster.

Women under 50 who use vitamins C and E to keep their skin young may actually be making it age faster
It is just one of the latest studies to show that we should stop treating free radicals as the ‘enemy’.

They may pose a challenge to our cell health, but it appears that our cells need to be challenged in order to remain robust. It’s rather like they need regular workouts in the gym in order to stay buff.

Michael Ristow, a professor of energy metabolism at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, has found that our bodies create free radicals when we exercise intensely. This prompts our bodies to mount better defences against those free radicals, effectively strengthening our cellular defences and making our mitochondria – the tiny powerhouses that generate the energy within our cells, which we need to survive – work harder.

In 2009, Professor Ristow reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that if we take antioxidant vitamins, the strengthening system is blocked and fails to work. Meanwhile, in June, research reported to the American Diabetes Association warned that giving vitamin C and E supplements to diabetic patients could increase their risk of dying prematurely.

Kumar Sharma, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study, believes this is because diabetic patients’ mitochondria tend to underperform. Therefore, they suffer particularly badly if their cells are not stimulated into behaving energetically by free radicals. In turn, vital organs can become extremely susceptible to damage.

Professor Sharma adds there is another danger; regular physical exertion can improve the control of insulin in diabetics, but they fail to get any benefit from their exercise if they take vitamins C and E.

A further worry is evidence suggesting that antioxidant pills may actually make our bodies age faster – making vitamins C and E a shortcut to an early grave.

We should use this information to ask ourselves whether or not we should continue to eat vitamins and nutritional supplements as if they were sweets

There are also concerns that high doses of vitamin E can significantly raise the risk of cancer. Last year, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle warned that men should not take high doses of the vitamin because it increases their risk of developing prostate cancer by up to a fifth.

Now, evidence is emerging that may help to explain what is going on. Researchers at McGill University in Canada, writing in the journal Cell, say that free radicals can make our cells live longer by altering a mechanism called apoptosis – a process in which damaged cells are instructed to commit suicide when necessary, for example to avoid becoming cancerous when their DNA has mutated, or to kill off viruses that have invaded the cell.

The scientists have found from laboratory tests that free radicals can stimulate this ‘suicide mechanism’ to do something completely different in healthy cells – to bolster their defences and increase their lifespan.

Importantly, the concerns centre around taking antioxidants in supplements rather than through diet. Antioxidants are found in foods, but in much lower amounts than in supplements, and experts agree these have a protective effect. Foods also provide a variety of antioxidants that work together in tandem – rather than giving an unnaturally high dose of one vitamin.

Nevertheless, manufacturers of cosmetics, foods and supplements are continuing to make grand claims about ‘health-enhancing’, ‘age-defying’ benefits of antioxidant vitamins in man-made products.

But be aware these benefits are far from proven.

And beware of vitamin D tablets too!

Antioxidants are not the only supplements causing increasing concern.

Vitamin D supplements – already taken by millions of Britons and set for even wider use – have now been found to harm memory, weaken bones and boost the risk of heart attack and stroke in the middle-aged.

What’s more, vitamin D does not even seem to protect us from chronic disease or early death.

This month, the Government’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition said that a lack of bright sunshine – the most common source of vitamin D – in the UK is stopping much of the population from getting a healthy amount.

Vitamin D supplements have now been found to harm memory

It added that natural food sources alone, such as eggs and oily fish, are not enough to boost levels sufficiently.

The current advice is that at-risk groups – including pregnant women, children up to age five, adults over 65, people with darker skin and those who do not expose their skin to sunlight – should take a daily vitamin D supplement.

But if the committee’s draft recommendations are adopted, they could lead to new guidance for the whole population.

Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to a number of health problems, including diabetes, depression, cancer and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

But should we all really be taking daily vitamin D supplements? Research is highlighting serious potential health dangers of the pills and questions whether taking the supplements has any beneficial effect at all.


The amount spent on vitamin D supplements by the NHS in 2011

This month, a study by Mayo Clinic children’s centre warned that obese teenagers who take vitamin D supplements can have dangerous increases in their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides – a fat in the blood that can raise the risk of heart disease.

Another study warns that giving vitamin D supplements to healthy adults (middle-aged or older) can significantly harm their memory.

The report, by Australia’s Curtin University and published in the European Journal of Nutrition, says that when healthy people are given the supplement, they perform significantly worse in tests that require them to remember lists of words over a period of time.

It is known that taking too many vitamin D supplements over time can cause more calcium to be absorbed than can be excreted, with the excess damaging the kidneys.

Excessive vitamin D can also encourage calcium to be removed from bones, which can soften and weaken them.

A study from the University of Copenhagen has warned for the first time of a statistical connection between high levels of vitamin D and deaths from heart attacks and strokes. The research, published in March in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that people with blood concentrations of 100 nanomol per litre or more had an increased risk of dying from a stroke or a coronary.

Professor Peter Schwarz, who led the study, warned: ‘We should use this information to ask ourselves whether or not we should continue to eat vitamins and nutritional supplements as if they were sweets.’

Source: Daily Mail

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