Antioxidants fail to slow ageing

London: Anti-oxidants don’t slow down the effects of ageing, according to a new study published this week in the journal Genes and Development.

The research, carried out by scientists at the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London (UCL), questions the theory that excess superoxide free radicals increase the effect and speed of the ageing process. Free radicals are unbalanced oxygen molecules produced naturally in the body and are believed to damage tissue.

For their study, the team modified key genes involved in removing excess superoxide free radicals in the worm Caenorhabditis elegans. They found that the gene changes didn’t affect the worms’ lifespan.

Caenorhabditis elegans is often used in genetic research into ageing because it has a similar genetic structure to more complex organisms, and is easy to control and change.

Bupa’s Assistant Medical Director, Dr Virginia Warren, told the health information team: “The results of this study challenge what has been regarded as obvious for half a century – that superoxides are a key factor in ageing and so mopping them up should be beneficial.”

In 1956, Denham Harman – widely known as the father of the free radical theory – suggested that damage done by too many free radicals in the body was responsible for ageing. Since then a number of papers have been published in support of this theory, so it has remained unchallenged for over 50 years. However, this new study has questioned the theory.

A recent Cochrane review, published in April 2008, looked at the results from 67 studies into anti-oxidant supplements and increased mortality. This independent review found no evidence to suggest that anti-oxidant supplements such as vitamin A, C and E, selenium and beta-carotene can decrease mortality. The review goes on to show that supplements of vitamin C, E and beta-carotene may actually reduce lifespan.

These recent results from UCL, combined with the Cochrane review, add weight to the argument that anti-oxidants in food and beauty products may not be the quick fix many people are looking for. Dr Warren commented: “Of course, we all still need to eat a healthy diet to reduce our chances of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.”