Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Antioxidant Update?

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Q: I just bought some supplements and the clerk at the health food store told me I needed to take 6,000 mg of vitamin C per day. That sounds like an awful lot. What do you recommend? -- Barbara B.

A: I used to recommend taking 2,000 to 6,000 mg of vitamin C daily (divided into three doses). However, I changed my recommendation in 1999 to 200 mg daily after examining two well-designed studies showing that lower levels of vitamin C more than saturate the body's tissues, and thus are sufficient to protect against cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.

One of the studies that influenced my decision was a review of clinical trials published in the April 21, 1999, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It concluded that 200 mg a day is the maximum amount of vitamin C that human cells can absorb, making higher doses a waste. The second study came from the Linus Pauling Institute (Pauling himself took 18,000 mg of vitamin C per day) and was published in the June 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It identified a similar dose, 120 to 200 mg, as the optimal amount for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, cataracts and other chronic conditions. I wouldn't worry if you've been taking higher doses. Vitamin C is water soluble and anything not used by the body quickly passes out. In fact, I still recommend higher dosages - up to 1,000 mg a day if you are coming down with a cold.

The rest of my antioxidant recommendations are as follows:
  • Vitamin E: 400 IUs of mixed natural tocopherols (or 80 mg of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols) a day. Since vitamin E is fat soluble, it must be taken with food to be absorbed. Also, choose natural forms of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol with mixed tocopherols, or better yet, mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols) instead of the synthetic form (dl-alpha-tocopherol).
  • Selenium: 200 micrograms a day of a yeast-bound form. Selenium is a trace mineral with antioxidant and anticancer properties. Selenium and vitamin E facilitate each other's absorption, so take them together. Doses of selenium above 400 micrograms a day may not be healthy.
  • Mixed carotenes: 10, 000 - 15,000 IUs a day of beta carotene with other carotenoids, such as alpha carotene, astaxanthin, and zeaxanthin. Make sure the mix gives you lycopene, the red pigment in tomatoes that helps prevent prostate cancer, and lutein, which protects against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Andrew Weil, M.D. –Author of:
Eight Weeks to Optimum Health
Spontaneous Healing
The Natural Mind
The Marriage of the Sun and Moon
Health and Healing
Natural Health, Natural Medicine
From Chocolate to Morphine (with Winifred Rosen)

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