Antioxidant study shows promise

Eating foods that are rich in antioxidants to prevent a host of chronic conditions and ailments may have been more marketing spin that science. But now a new study shows that antioxidants may actually be able to reverse a certain condition that gets worse with aging.

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego have found evidence that antioxidants may aid the body's immune system by helping it regenerate white blood cells, Medical News Today reported.

White blood cells, otherwise known as T-cells, are produced by the thymus. This gland is located in the chest near the heart. As we age, the thymus shrinks and produces fewer and fewer T-cells.

The research from Scripps indicates that antioxidants prevented the thymus from shrinking. Mice were given doses of antioxidants, including Vitamin C. The results indicated that the mice experienced less age-related deterioration in the thymus

"The thymus ages more rapidly than any other tissue in the body. It diminishes the ability of older individuals to respond to new immunologic challenges, including evolving pathogens and the vaccines that may otherwise offer protection from them," said lead scientist, Dr. Howard Petrie. "We provide, for the first time, a link between antioxidants and normal immune function."

Dr. Petrie said the tissue in the thymus ages more rapidly than any other tissue in the body.

The study indicated that antioxidants helped minimize the damaging effects of hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide has many beneficial uses. But it is a byproduct of cell metabolism when the body converts food to energy, the Daily Mail reported.

New hope
Antioxidants have long been touted as having health benefits such as helping prevent cancer, vision loss, heart disease or stroke. The health industry promoted their consumption and you even see certain packaged foods claiming to be packed with antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and selenium.

Antioxidants first came to the public's attention in the 1990s when researchers began to connect the damage caused by free radicals and certain ailments, Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported. The principle of how antioxidants worked was rather simple. They fought off damage caused by free radicals, the substances generated by metabolism.As they form, free radicals can cause cell damage. And that damage was what accelerates aging and puts people at risk for infections and other conditions, U.S. News and World Report wrote.

So far, the evidence hasn't quite supported the many claims the health industry has made about antioxidants' benefits. One study showed a reduction in coronary heart disease among people with type 2 diabetes by those who took Vitamin E.

A trial in which patients used selenium showed a reduction in cancer risk and all-cause mortality among men but no apparent benefit for women, U.S. News and World Report wrote.

Another showed promise involving vision. Patients who took vitamin C, selenium and zinc showed they were protected in part from age-related macular degeneration, but the supplements had no effect on cataracts. Other studies haven't proven what many hoped for.

While the Scripps study shows promise, other studies appear to be at least inconclusive. Harvard says many of the studies were limited because of time and that they were conducted in those who were already suffering from disease.

Doctors and dieticians advise that a diet consisting of fruits and vegetables is excellent for better overall health and getting the nutrients needed to support healthy bodily functions of all sorts. But many medical experts seem to agree that consumers should not to expect too much from antioxidants when it comes to preventing or aiding in the treatment of certain diseases. They may help stave off certain aspects of aging. But there isn't enough evidence to support much more than that yet.