Designing experiments to show antioxidants have no benefit
posted by Dr Steve Hcikey on 03 August 2004 at 10:15 pm
This report purports that, “antioxidant supplements have no benefit”. Fortunately, this is not the case and the stated conclusions are not scientifically supportable.

For over 50 years, the medical establishment has not tested the claims for the primary water-soluble antioxidant vitamin C at high doses. However, the stated conclusions are not that they found that the effect of low dose supplementation is small, but that supplementation with antioxidants provides no benefit. This is a gross and unwarranted extrapolation from the data. Dr Kris-Etherton’s study does not cover high dose supplementation of vitamin C in divided doses.

The rest of this response discusses how to design an experiment to show antioxidants provide no advantage. It is quite easy to bias the experiments but just in case any medical researcher missed it, we state the main rules here.

Firstly, the claims for vitamin C are for high frequent doses. Treatment of disease may require massive amounts orally and intravenously. A minimally effective nutritional dose would be 500mg four times a day in a health young adult but much higher in people with a susceptibility to disease. Lower or less frequent doses would be correspondingly less effective. All medical researchers should realise that it is easy to get a negative result for supplementation with vitamin C. You lower the dose and you give only one dose per day. When you have the required result, you can publish and make the claim that vitamin C is not beneficial. Not that it is ineffective at a low dose but that it useless. This has been standard practice now for half a century, so do not break with tradition.

With lipid soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin E, the trick to get negative results is to use a low dose of an inappropriate form, such as synthetic dl-alpha tocopherol. It is especially useful if the choice of formulation prevents the substance reaching the studied tissue at high enough concentration. When you have the negative result, claim that vitamin E is ineffective while ignoring both dose and formulation. While the hidden extrapolation to all forms and doses of vitamin E is good, for greater effect you may complete the generalisation and state that all antioxidants are a waste of money.

It is sad that the medical profession allows this charade to continue. It may help drug company profits but it holds back scientific progress and potentially promotes unnecessary disease.