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Dr. Oz’s Latest Antioxidant Stance

Many retailers know to keep an eye on Dr. Oz’s popular talk show, because with every episode comes a new supplement recommendation that sends viewers running to their local health food stores. While the health benefits of antioxidants have always been high on Dr. Oz’s list, in a February 22nd episode of the Dr. Oz Show titled “The Antioxidant Myth: Are They Harmful to Your Health?”, the famed heart surgeon changed his tune.

Dr. Oz said recent studies have claimed antioxidant supplements and food may not actually fight disease, but instead be linked to an increased risk of cancer. “In an effort to do the right thing, are you overdosing on supplements?” he asked. Dr. Oz said these new studies caused him enough concern that he wanted to officially change his key recommendation for daily antioxidant supplementation.

According to Dr. Oz, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James Watson, who helped discover DNA, stunned the medical community this year when he wrote, “The time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use … seem[s] to slightly shorten the lives of those who take them.” The study asked if antioxidants are causing more cancers than they prevent.

On the show, Dr. Oz said this new theory is stirring controversy, but research has backed Watson’s claims, prompting doctors to ask if they’ve been wrong about recommending antioxidants. Dr. Oz said the studies need to be re-evaluated. Guest Dr. Russell Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of medicine, UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, said that antioxidants are a known health benefit, since they are in fruits and vegetables, which are obviously a big part of any healthy diet. “We are not talking about the foods,” Greenfield said. “We are talking about the supplements being potentially problematic.”

Greenfield said antioxidants are necessary, and they take away compounds that make us sick. But too many antioxidants may disrupt the machinery of the immune system, giving it a paradoxical effect. Dr. Oz said that doctors used to think that getting rid of all free radicals from the body, via taking antioxidants, was a good idea. But new research is arguing that we actually want some free radicals our bodies. “The question is, how much? What’s the right dose of free radicals, and what’s the right dose of antioxidants?” asked Dr. Oz. “More is not necessarily better.”

Greenfield stressed that antioxidants from food are not the problem, and are an important part of a healthy diet. It’s the overdosing on high-dose antioxidant supplements that may be harmful.

Dr. Oz asked his audience and found that a third of the audience takes one or more antioxidant pills a day. He asked Greenfield if people should avoid antioxidant supplements. Greenfield said no, because most people, even those who eat well, do not get all the necessary vitamins from their diets and would still benefit from a multi-vitamin.

Dr. Oz’s new recommendation? A low-dose multivitamin with levels of vitamins similar to what you would get from eating healthy foods. And he officially lowered his recommendation for vitamin A to 2,500 IU a day, and added that a lot of companies are beginning to carry supplements in these lower doses.

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