A recent French study has shown that men who take low doses of nutritional supplements including beta-carotene, vitamin C, zinc, and other antioxidants are able to protect themselves against free radicals that can increase the risk of heart disease and other conditions. The intake of nutritional supplements had a greater effect in men than in women because they generally do not eat enough fruits and vegetables in proportion to their weight and total caloric intake. Previous studies on the benefits of antioxidant supplements have been conflicting, so Dr. Serge Hercberg of the Nutritional Epidemiology Unit of France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research and his colleagues set out to re-examine the benefits of antioxidant use. They randomly assigned more than 13,000 French men and women ages 35 to 60 to receive a placebo each day or a multivitamin containing 120 mg of vitamin C, 30 mg of vitamin E, 6 mg of beta carotene, 100 mcg of selenium, and 2 mg of zinc. The low doses of antioxidants are meant to replicate that amount of antioxidants that could be achieved through proper nutrition. The study participants were followed for an average of 7.5 years with periodic physical examinations and cancer screenings. At the end of the study, 562 people had been diagnosed with cancer, 271 had developed cardiovascular disease, and 174 people died. While the antioxidant supplements had no effect on the incidence of cardiovascular disease, the cancer rate was lower among men taking the supplements?88 men in the antioxidant group were diagnosed with cancer, compared with 124 in the placebo group. The study group asserts that the men in the multivitamin group were less likely to die from any cause.
Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.