Were you to peer through the windows of most 21st-Century kitchens, you’d see that no modern breakfast is complete without a fistfull of pills you’d normally associate with the inmates of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
That’s because getting your five-a-day between gym sessions and late meetings is no mean feat. Packing a day’s worth of vitamins and minerals into one neat handful is the modern way to streamline your nutrition. But not all shortcuts are the best route, no matter how convenient they may seem.
Granted, vitamins such as A, C and E eliminate the free radicals that are released when you do things your doctor tells you not to – drink, smoke, gorge on charred meat. Which is good, because free radicals are associated with diabetes and heart disease. And they can cause cancer by interacting with your DNA in particularly insidious ways. Trouble is, antioxidants might be doing the same.
Logically speaking, guzzling 4000 per cent of your RDA of vitamin C by swapping greenery for an effervescent breakfast should lead to the life expectancy of Methuselah; and packing in more dietary nutrients than Woolies’ organic aisle should give you the constitution to match. Sadly, no.
First, supplements: the clue is in their name – anything you dissolve in water or shake out of a pill bottle should sit alongside your diet, not work in place of it. You’re not Buck Rogers, so you can’t steer straight past the fruit and veg section seeking a meal in a pill.
Your body is built to unlock nutrients slowly from food, letting them in gradually – not to have a busload come crashing in at once. You don’t have the capacity to host such a festival of substances.
A word to the wise: next time you go to the toilet and notice that your urine glows like you’ve been on holiday in Chernobyl, it’s a sign that you’re pissing your money away. But unfortunately the problem extends far beyond an inability to process all the nutrients. Treat vitamins as you would whey, creatine or any other supplements; you can have too much of a good thing.
Mainlining antioxidants has counter- productive and somewhat dangerous effects. The problems manifest in ugly ways. Overloading on antioxidants can cause tumours to develop and even accelerate their growth. Recent Swedish research suggests that although they decrease the rate at which free radicals interfere with your DNA, they reduce the level so much that your cells don’t notice they’re being messed with.
In essence, your cells become lazy and are slow to deploy their cancer defenses. Your “helpful” supplements let in a raiding party by the back door.
Getting your antioxidants as evolution intended – from actual food – is to be encouraged. Unless you’re on the verge of malnutrition, the advice is clear: chuck out all your powders, pills and potions and eat an apple instead.
Otherwise the doctor won’t be far away.
Still not convinced? Ponder this science
The Annals of Internal Medicine journal pinpointed vitamins A and E as harmful in high doses.
N-acetylcysteine’s, at levels below those found in supplements, almost tripled tumour rates in mice.
A survey in the journal BMC Medicine found up to a third of supps are bereft of the advertised herb.
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