Antioxidant intake provides health benefit

The French Connection“Low-dose supplements ward off cancer in men.”  

That promising claim is the headline of a recent article from
Reuters Health. But as I was reading it over, I thought I was
having a dj vu because the details seemed very familiar.
And then the light went on: This is a new publication of a
previously reported study.

In the summer of 2003, I came across an announcement from
Inserm (the French Institute of Health and Medical Research)
about an important antioxidant trial. At the time, the results
had only been posted on the Inserm web site. But now the
full study has been published in the Archives of Internal

The conclusions of this trial are so important that I’m going
to take this chance to revisit the key points. And although the
findings offer a potential course of cancer prevention for
men, we’ll see why women may enjoy the same benefits.

Nutrition to the MAX

The fact that antioxidant intake is beneficial to health is
certainly not surprising news to HSI members. But when a
particularly large antioxidant study is released – that IS news.

Eight years ago, Inserm researchers designed a study called
SU.VI.MAX. In the U.S. that may sound like a hot new
monster car for soccer moms, but in France it’s an acronym
for SUpplmentation en VItamines et Minraux
AntioXydants. The SU.VI.MAX study evaluated the
effectiveness of antioxidant nutrition in the prevention of
cancer and cardiovascular disease. With funding from both
the French government and the private sector, the Inserm
team enlisted more than 13,000 subjects.

To better control the data, the researchers didn’t want to
simply use dietary questionnaires – they wanted to create a
double-blind, placebo-controlled study. In other words, their
goal was to be able to accurately measure the intake of
antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Because this is
impossible to do with a large group of people over many
years, they did the next best thing: they devised this daily
regimen of dietary supplements:

* beta-carotene, 6 mg
* vitamin C, 120 mg
* vitamin E, 30 mg
* selenium, 100 mcg
* zinc, 20 mcg

The researchers stressed the fact that eating foods that
contain antioxidants will do a much better job of delivering
antioxidants than supplements can. Nevertheless, there’s no
getting around the fact that what their trial turned out to be
was a test of low dosage supplements.

Gender division

The SU.VI.MAX involved more than 5,000 men (aged 45 to
60) divided into two groups; one to receive the supplements
and one to receive placebos. More than 7,800 women (aged
35 to 60) were also divided into these two groups. After
following the subjects for seven and a half years, the data
showed that among the men in the antioxidant group, there
was a 30 percent reduction of cancer rate compared to the
placebo group, and a 37 percent reduction in overall

That’s the impressive part. After that the picture isn’t so clear.

For one thing, the cancer statistics between the two groups of
women were statistically insignificant. A representative of
Ligue Nationale Contre le Cancer (France’s national cancer
center) attributed the different outcomes between the men
and the women to different metabolic profiles and the fact
that French women are more inclined to eat greater amounts
of fruits and vegetables than men are.

I’m not sure the difference can be explained away quite that
easily, but reports from the trial will be ongoing, so maybe
the causes of this difference will be more obvious with
further research of the data.

In addition, both of the male groups and both of the female
groups showed no statistical difference in rates of
cardiovascular disease. On the surface this would suggest that
the antioxidants had no preventive effect. But remember that
French citizens already have a considerably lower rate of
cardiovascular disease than Americans and other Europeans.
So a test of how antioxidant supplements affect heart disease
would almost certainly yield more striking results if; A)
researchers used higher doses of supplements, and B) if they
conducted the research in a country that has a higher rate of
heart disease.

Time to eat!

If you want to get more antioxidants in your diet, you don’t
have to stick to just fruits and vegetables. Beef, poultry, fish,
cheese, and nuts are all good sources of selenium and zinc.
Egg yolks, liver and almonds are rich in vitamin E. But if you
want to tuck into the serious antioxidant levels, then, yes,
you’ll need to bring on the fruits and veggies – especially the
colorful fruit and the green, leafy vegetables. Add some
asparagus, tomato, bell peppers and broccoli, and your meal
will be an antioxidant powerhouse.

So get out your biggest salad bowl, toss some steaks on the
grill, dice up a fruit salad, and let the antioxidants fly! And
look out for the new SU.VI.MAX hybrid, due out early


George Washington University School of Medicine’s clinical associate
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and another thing

“What is perimenopause?” asks an HSI member named
Morgan. “Please don’t tell me I have ANOTHER kind of
menopause to worry about!”

Morgan posted her question in an HSI Forum thread titled
“Hot Flashes,” and received this response from a member
named Mike: “Perimenopause is the transitional stage before
menopause. It’s also known as pre-menopause. It can hit
between 35-50 and last 2 to 10 years, and I guess those
figures aren’t written in stone. I would guess, like PMS, some
women are more affected by it than others, and the symptoms
vary. If your menstrual periods have stopped, you’re past peri
and into the real thing.”

Mike knows what he’s talking about.

A woman’s hormone levels begin to decline several years
before menopause begins. These changes sometimes prompt
depression and anxiety, as well as physical symptoms such as
missed periods. All too often doctors address these symptoms
without recognizing and treating their true cause.

HSI Panelist Ann Louise Gittleman fully explores this
complex health issue in her book “Before the Change.” A
nutrition specialist and best-selling author, Ms. Gittleman
offers diet and exercise techniques to help control
perimenopause symptoms without using powerful drugs or
synthetic hormones. And when the symptoms of
perimenopause are treated naturally, women are often much
better equipped to cope with the worst symptoms of
menopause long before they begin.

You can find out more information about “Before the
Change” on this web site: If you’re a woman
heading into those pre-menopausal years, this book could be
your indispensable health guide through the coming decade.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute


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“The SU.VI.MAX Study – A Randomized, Placebo-
Controlled Trial of the Health Effects of Antioxidant
Vitamins and Minerals” Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol.
164, No. 21, 11/22/04,
“Low-Dose Supplements Ward Off Cancer In Men”
Charnicia E. Huggins, Reuters Health, 11/22/04,