Are antioxidants harmful?

I’ve gotten multiple questions through the website and a few comments on this blog about the study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) indicating that taking antioxidant supplements leads to increased mortality. I’ll lay out my thoughts on this paper, but before I forge ahead, I’ve got a bit of housekeeping to do.

I’m behind on commenting on the comments, but I’ll try to get caught up soon. One of the reasons I fall behind is that I’m overrun with spam. I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-300 spam hits per day, some of which are pages long. I have a spam filter on WordPress that is pretty vigilant, but the problem is, it is too vigilant. Spam almost never makes it through into the Comments Awaiting Moderation page of my blog, but, unfortunately, many comments get ensnared in the filter and end up in the Spam page. This means I have to go through all the spam one by one to root out the valid comments in there and transfer them. And this transfer isn’t easy: it requires four steps to complete. I don’t know what the spam filter keys on because I get comments from people who have commented multiple times that end up in the spam pile. I get comments from people who have never commented before that end up there. As far as I can see there is no rhyme or reason as to how this happens, but it does.

I hate going through the spam because it takes forever, so I have a tendency to let it stack up until there are hundreds before I finally tackle it. I just did and found a bunch of comments, some from several days ago. So, if you’re wondering what happened to your comment, it was probably languishing in the spam file until I just rescued it. As far as I can tell – with this program, at least – there is nothing you can do to ensure that your comments get to the right place except to rely upon my industry in plucking them from the spam. And since I hate to go through all the spam, I don’t do it as long as I can find any valid reason (to me) to put it off.

Speaking of comments, my commenting on them is becoming quite time consuming. I like the interchange of ideas, so I’ll keep on commenting as long as I reasonably can. What I am going to start doing, however, is simply putting the comments up that require no comment on my part. Many people write in simply commenting on something I’ve written or on a comment someone else has made. Often I don’t have anything to add beyond ‘Thanks for commenting.’ It will save me a bunch of time to simply post these kinds of comments without my pithy responses.

Now, as to the JAMA study

First, without even reading it I don’t think a lot of it. Why? Because it’s a meta-analysis. In my opinion meta-analyses are more often than not used for one of two reasons: to make something statistically significant that really isn’t or to do the opposite. Let me explain.

Suppose you want to do a study to prove that eating fast food once a day for six months would lead people to gain weight. You recruit people into your study, weigh them, give them coupons for six months worth of fast food, then weight them at the end. If a statistically significant fraction of people in your study gained a significant amount of weight over the six months, you could conclude – based on the data generated in your study – that eating fast food daily for six months causes people to gain weight.

Let’s say, though, that when you crunched all the data in your study you found that there wasn’t a statistically significant difference in weight gain. When you look through all the data you notice that some people gained a lot of weight, some gained a little, some stayed the same, and some even lost weight eating fast food for six months. As you drill down deeper in your data you discover that almost all of the people who lost weight while eating the fast food were people who work in jobs requiring a lot of manual labor. If you remove their data from your analysis, you find that now the people remaining in the study do gain a significant amount of weight on the fast food diet.

You now write your paper and say: We recruited subjects from various white-collar occupations and found that those eating fast food daily for six months gained a significant amount of weight. You title your paper: Six month fast-food causes weight gain. The press picks up your study and writes: Cheeseburgers and fries pack on the pounds.

But the study isn’t valid because you can’t cherry pick your data after the fact then recreate your study to fit the data the way you want it to.

But that is exactly what happens in meta-analysis studies. Instead of a single study, researchers amass data from a number of studies and pass it off as one. Problem is, they already know the results of the studies they’re allowing into their meta-analysis. They can set the standards so that studies they don’t want to include don’t make the cut and don’t sully their ultimate data. Whenever any kind of meta-analysis is done that gets picked up on by the press as this one has, people crawl out of the woodwork claiming that this study or that one wasn’t included that would have changed the outcome. (Click here to see what I mean.)

Often meta-analysis studies are used to give statistical significance to some finding that hasn’t been shown to be statistically significant in many smaller studies. For example, if you flip a coin you expect it to land on heads 50 percent of the time and tails the other 50 percent. But would you bet a lot of money that if I flip a coin ten times it’s going to land on heads five times? I doubt it because you know that ten times isn’t enough to ensure a 50-50 outcome. If I were to flip the coin 100 times, it would probably come closer to hitting 50-50, but you still probably wouldn’t bet the farm on it. If I flipped in 1000 times it would come closer, and 10,000 times closer yet. The point is, the more tries, the closer the outcome to whatever the odds really are, which, in the case of flipping a coin, 50-50.

Let’s look at this a different way. Let’s say that you have a coin that you think is weighted in such a way that it is going to come up heads more than it’s going to come up tails whenever it’s flipped. You flip it ten times and it comes up heads seven times out of the ten. That wouldn’t prove that the coin was weighted because there weren’t enough flips to overcome the random chance that the seven heads wasn’t simply a fluke of random chance. You know you could flip a normal coin ten times and get seven heads from time to time. So now you flip it 100 times and you get 65 heads and only 35 tails. Now, it’s looking like maybe the coin is weighted. But, even a hundred flips could give you this outcome simply by chance, albeit less chance than with ten flips. You flip it 1000 times and get 680 heads. Now you’re on to something because 1000 flips is enough to overcome the little runs of heads and tails that will skew the outcome on ten flips or even a hundred. If you flip it 10,000 times and get 6,920 heads, you know the coin is weighted.

Let’s say I want to prove that eating fat causes heart disease. I recruit fifty people, determine the amount of fat in their diets, and wait. Let’s say that I divide them into quartiles of fat intake and I find that over 20 years the quartile of those with the greatest fat intake have 5 heart attacks and those in the lowest quartile have 4 heart attacks. No big deal. Doesn’t prove a thing because it isn’t statistically significant. Now let’s say that someone else does a study that is designed a little differently–let’s say this study looks at saturated fat and heart disease and finds the same thing. That the highest quartile of subjects has one more heart attack than the lowest quartile. Same thing. No big deal.

Then we have a study that shows just the opposite. The lowest quartile of fat intake has one heart attack more than the highest. And another, structured differently yet, that shows one more heart attack in the fat-eating group. None of these studies prove anything–none are statistically significant.

Now comes someone who wants to do a meta-analysis. He (or it could be a she, but let’s call him a he) already knows the outcomes of these studies. He then structures his meta-analysis to include data from all the studies showing a non-significant increase in heart disease in those eating the most fat and excludes those showing the opposite. How does he do this? By setting the standards by which any paper makes it into his meta-analysis. He then takes all the data from these little insignificant studies and gives it significance because of the bigger numbers.

It would be like trying to prove a coin was weighted by taking ten ‘studies’ of coin flips that went 6 heads/4 tails (which isn’t significant), eliminating ten studies that went 4 heads/6 tails, and adding the data up to saying that there were 60 heads out of 100 flips, which would be significant.

The same thing can be done in reverse to show that a particular finding is not significant by combining enough studies, the outcomes of which are already known, to get rid of any significant data. And meta-analysis don’t particularly pay attention to how well studies are done.

If a well-designed, well-executed study is performed showing that a low-carb diet significantly reduces blood pressure is combined in a meta-analysis with a crappy study showing that there is no change in blood pressure with a low-carb diet, then the overall significance of the excellent first study is diminished.

That’s why I don’t like meta-analysis studies and never give them much of a second look.

Everyone who wrote asked what I thought of the JAMA study. No one really asked what I thought of antioxidants. From the above it should be clear what I think of the merits of the study. I don’t have any faith in it one way or another. I would have to go through all the literature, see what studies weren’t included, and read all those that were to get any kind of handle on what I think is really going on, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to do that.

I do have my own opinions on the use of antioxidants in large doses, however, and, although no one asked, I’ll give them to you anyway.

Most people think of free radicals as these little electrons dashing around the body dinging the cells here and there and bringing about all the consequences of aging. If only we could quench (everyone always uses the word ‘quench’ when speaking of eliminating with free radicals) the little buggers, we could live forever.

That much is obviously false because a large number of researchers have given zillions of subjects huge quantities of various antioxidants without any real change in longevity. Antioxidants have been studied enough to show that they aren’t the magic bullet to significantly delay aging. Which seems strange, given what we know.

We know that free radicals cause damage, we know that the accumulation of free-radical damage is one of the major causes of aging, we know that in a test tube antioxidants neutralize free radicals, so why don’t we live longer when we take antioxidants?

First, when we take antioxidant supplements they go into our blood. Most of the free radicals and free radical damage isn’t in the blood. It’s deep within the mitochondria, the little sausage shaped organelles that are the power-generators within mitochondria.jpgthe cells. The supplements we take don’t make it into the mitochondria, so they’re not really effective in protecting them. If mitochondria get severely enough damaged, they die. If cells lose their mitochondria, they lose their power source, and they die. When enough cells die, we die.

Before we can understand how free radicals are created, we need to understand what happens to the food we eat. We know that food provides us with the energy we need to live, but most people don’t really understand how we use the food we eat. When we eat a steak, how do we use the energy contained in the steak to power ourselves? We use it to convert ADP into ATP. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the energy currency of the body. It is a molecule with high-energy phosphate bonds that when cleaved release the energy required to operate all of the body’s functions. ADP (adenosine diphosphate) is converted to ATP in the mitochondria. Energy is required for this process, and that energy comes from food.

Various metabolic pathways break down the food we eat and reduce it to high-energy electrons that end up in the mitochondria. These electrons are passed along from one complicated molecular structure to another along the inner mitochondrial membrane until they are finally handed off to oxygen, the ultimate electron receptor. (I’m really simplifying this process; entire books are written about it. I’m just giving you the most basic gist.) As these electrons are handed off from one complex to another, the energy they release during the transfer moves protons (hydrogen ions: H+) across this inner mitochondrial membrane. An electrochemical gradient is created when these hydrogen ions stack up on one side of the membrane. The electrochemical gradient is the force driving the production of ATP from ADP. Energy from food creates the electrochemical gradient, the electrochemical gradient drives the production of ATP, so, thusly, energy from food is converted into ATP.

etc.JPG

As the high-energy electrons are passed along down the inner mitochondrial membrane they occasionally break free. When they break free, they become free radicals. These rogue free radicals can then attack other molecules and damage them. Because these free radicals are loosed within the mitochondria, the closest molecules for them to attack are the fats in the mitochondrial membranes. If enough of these fats are damaged, the membrane ceases to work properly. If enough of the membrane doesn’t work, the entire mitochodrium is compromised and ceases functioning. If enough mitochondria bite the dust, the cell doesn’t work and undergoes apoptosis, a kind of cellular suicide. This chronic damage and loss of cells is the basic definition of aging.

So, if free radicals cause this damage, why can’t we stop it with antioxidants? We do. But not the antioxidants that we take in supplement form–those don’t make their way into the interior of the mitochondria where the damage takes place. Nature has endowed us with our own antioxidant system located within the mitochondria where, so to speak, the rubber meets the road in terms of free radical damage. The antioxidants produced require sulfur, which comes from the sulfur-containing amino acids, i.e. methionine. There are certain substances contained in particular foods that stimulate the enzymatic machinery that increases the production of these intramitochondrial antioxidants. Sulforaphane, for instance, a substance found in broccoli sprouts greatly stimulates a particular enzymatic pathway within the mitochondria, resulting in an increased production of antioxidants where they need to be. Sulforaphane has been shown to prevent cancer, vascular damage, and a host of other disorders thought to result from excess free radical damage.
Our defense against free radicals, then, really comes in two forms. First, the production of antioxidants within the mitochondria, and, second, by making the fats in the mitochondrial membrane less prone to damage. How can we do that? By making them more saturated.

Saturated fats aren’t prone to free radical attack–only unsaturated fats can be damaged by free radicals. Fats that have double carbon-carbon bonds, i.e. unsaturated fats, are the only fats susceptible to free radical damage. If the fats in the mitochondrial membrane are more saturated, then the membrane is less prone to free radical damage.

Do we know this will work or are we guessing? We’re pretty sure this is the case for a couple of reasons. First, when animals are calorically restricted (so far the only sure-fire way to increase lifespan), their membranes become more saturated. It was first thought that caloric restriction would reduce the production of free radicals, but it turns out that it doesn’t. Calorically-restricted animals keep firing off free radicals at about the same rate as their non-calorically-restricted mates, but the fats in their membranes become more saturated, presumably providing protection against assault by free radicals, allowing the animals to live longer. Second, we can graph the degree of saturation of membranes against longevity, and when we do, we find that animals that live longer have more saturated membranes. Take a bat, for example, compared to a mouse. Both weigh about the same, but the bat lives for about 20 years, the mouse for three or four. The bat’s membranes are much more highly saturated than are a mouse’s.

How can we increase the saturation of our membranes? By eating more saturated fat. In papers I’ve read, authors have cautioned against this approach (not wanting to appear ‘nutritionally incorrect’ of course), then have gone ahead and written about how they created a group of study animals with greater membrane saturation by feeding them more saturated fat.

Another way we can increase the saturation of the fats in the membrane is by keeping insulin levels low. There are enzymes in the cells that both increase the length of fatty acid chains (called elongase enzymes) and those that desaturate (called desaturase enzymes) the fats. The desaturase enzymes can make fats less saturated. Insulin appears to activate these enzymes, so chronically elevated insulin levels would tend to keep the fats in the membranes less saturated and more susceptible to free radical attack. I would venture that this is one of the reasons that hyperinsulinemia shortens life. One of the constant findings in studies of centenarians is a low level of fasting insulin, which would make sense given the ability of excess insulin to make the membranes more prone to free radical damage.

Many people seem to think that the cellular membranes won’t function well if they contain more saturated fat. They believe that a more rigid membrane creates problems for the proper operation of all the receptors and other large protein structures that reside in the membrane. They are right in a way, since a certain degree of fluidity is necessary, but where I think they are wrong is in their belief that the degree of rigidity or fluidity of the membrane is determined by the degree of saturation of the fats in the membrane. It’s determined by methylation, as was discussed in the previous post.

When you put the whole puzzle together, it’s pretty easy to see why a whole-food low-carbohydrate diet works to maintain health and longevity.

It provides plenty of good quality saturated fat to help protect the cellular membranes from free radical attack. It provides plenty of methionine, which is both a source of sulfur for the antioxidants in the mitochondria and a source of methyl groups for methylation of the fats in the cellular membrane thereby keeping them more fluid while at the same time more saturated. And it keeps insulin levels low so that the fats are not desaturated more than necessary, once again keeping the membranes less prone to free radical damage.

(One other way that low-carb diets help with health and longevity is by keeping the cells de-junked. As we age junk proteins accumulate in the cells. Over time these junk proteins can compromise cellular function. The generation of ketone bodies, a common occurrence with low-carb diets, helps keeps the cells clean. See here for a previous post on the subject.)

I believe the first and most effective defense against free radical attack is a good diet. Second is moderate exercise. (The effects of exercise on free radicals could be another long post, but for now, take my word for it: exercise reduces the production of free radicals) Third is the addition of a few supplements. CoQ10 and lipoic acid both act as antioxidants, but more importantly, they serve to regenerate the bodies own antioxidants. And a good vitamin supplement without massive doses of specific antioxidants isn’t a bad idea.

I take krill oil, fish oil, and curcumin daily without fail. I also take a vitamin E daily to stabilize the fats in the fish and krill oil. I take CoQ10 and lipoic acid several times per week. I take a multivitamin every now and then. And I take vitamin D3 in large doses throughout the winter. From time to time I take this or that other supplement depending upon what’s going on with my health, i.e. do I feel like I’m getting a cold?

I’m not a big fan of large doses of specific antioxidants because we weren’t evolved to take them. Plants live in the sun and produce oxygen as their way of life. Both the sun and oxygen are harmful if not controlled. Plants have evolved a complicated antioxidant system to protect themselves from sun and oxygen damage. We consume these antioxidants when we consume plants. We get tiny amounts of a zillion different kinds of antioxidants, not massive amounts of single antioxidants. And we get all the raw materials for the production of our own antioxidants from meat. (This post has gone on long enough, so if you want to read more about my view on antioxidants, read Chapter 5 in the Protein Power LifePlan.)

In my view, this is how nature intended us to get our antioxidants, and, with the exceptions mentioned above, this is the way I intend to get mine.

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27 thoughts on “Are antioxidants harmful?

  1. Sir i canny truly speak for anyone who reads this as i don’t any of ‘them’ ! but i’m going to take a flyer and say ‘huge immense total gargantuan uber thanks for your postings’ from us the thronging-milling masses.

    Really wonderfully informative.

    Many many thanks

    Hi Simon–

    “Huge immense total gargantuan uber thanks for your” support.  I really appreciate it.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  2. Doctor Eades:

    Thank you for your informative and intersting article, which addressed my question. I never asked for your own views on antioxidants, because having watched every single Low Carb Cookworx episode, I’m well aware of your views, and I agree with you and follow a similar supplement regimen. However, my concern in asking, was the difficulty I encounter in trying to explain to other people who pick up the snippets from CNN.com and USATODAY.com on this JAMA article and then launch into a full-scale attack on antioxidants. As a chemist, fully aware of free-radicals, I simple have to believe that antioxidants (especially those found in natural foodstuffs) help more than harm, and supplements,if taken properly as part of a balanced program are also useful. You did more than enough in explaining the basis of this “meta-analysis”, and that will allow me the ability to dialog with others. Thank you – and please do whatever you need to do to keep your comments coming – we love your honest and erudite insights!! THANK YOU.

    David and Susan Futoma

  3. What foods is lipoic acid found in? I am curious. Also, I didn’t know vitamin E was needed to stabilize the fish and krill fats (of which I take both). How much do you take?

    Very informative and enlightening post. Thank you.

    Hi Lyndsey–

    Alpha lipoic acid (which, BTW, is a sulfur-containing nutrient) is found mainly in meat, especially organ meats, i.e. liver, kidney, etc. It is also found in spinach, broccoli, and yeast, especially Brewer’s yeast. The best source is probably beef.

    I take one softgel of Grace Unique E vitamin E when I take my fish oil/krill oil combo.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  4. Our nutrition lecturer is a vegetarian and thinks ketosis and low-carb diets are dangerous and should only be followed for 6 weeks only. If you want to do a low carb diet this is her recommendation:
    -induce mild ketosis
    -use low GI carbs, high in phytonutrients
    -safety depends on phytonutrients and minerals eaten
    -protein trimmed of all subcutaneous fats
    -use mono and omega fats
    -use lots of antioxidant herbs in cooking rosemary, thyme basil.

    The whole class is just so worried about the long-term effects of low-carb diets which are just false. I’m the only low-carber in the class and sometimes its hard to sit there and listen to her talk about studies that I know are false.
    Anyway, asked her why they put epileptics on a ketosis diet and she didn’t know – do you know the answer to that one?

    Hi Sue–

    Using ketones as an alternate fuel for the brain increases the threshold for seizures.  As the ketone level in the brain goes up, the tendency for the brain cells to fire in an uncoordinated manner (i.e. a seizure) goes down.  The ketogenic diet (very low-carb) has been used as an anti-seizure diet for decades.  And without any long-term negative effects in its followers.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  5. I wish this was the sort of thing we learned in school. *sigh* Maybe I can do a little digging and add some of this information to my senior project presentation in april. I’m doing it on why saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease. 🙂

    Good luck with the senior project.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  6. Mike, please implement a system where you need to key-in a word or 4 digits (shown in a slightly scrambled image) before submitted comments are accepted. This will cut down on 99% of spam, yet all proper comments will get through.

    It will save a lot of your valuable time, and the minor inconvenience to your posters will be forgiven, I can assure you! 🙂

    Hi John–

    I tried that with my last blogging software and it didn’t work well.  When people tried to review what they had written, the code they had put in vanished, and their comment went into the spam file.  So I abandoned that approach.

    I’ll see if there is an add on to WordPress that uses the code.  I couldn’t find one when I first switched over.

    I’ve you know of one, let me know.

    Thanks–

    MRE 

  7. I just saw a funny movie that perfectly (and humorously) sums up veganism called “Steven the Vegan” on YouTube. Check it out at “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMpHF2a-IJY”.

    Hi Joseph–

    I found it so funny that I posted it.

    Thanks very much.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  8. Would curcuma be a good suplement to take for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

    Hi Tess–

    Yes, curcumin would be good to take for RA, but I think the entire fish oil/krill oil/circumin regimen would be better.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  9. Dr. Eades,

    Bravo! Excellent piece! As always, you managed to take an extremely complicated subject and distill it down to the basics without watering it down to the point where it no longer has meaning or relevance.

    One of my jobs is nutrition/supplement consulting at a local health food store. I cringe at the vast number of co-workers and customers that consume copious quantities of carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats! Of course I’m the one who gets weird stares for eating eggs cooked in coconut oil, or a lunch consisting of beef roast with a side of blueberries. Funny thing is, I am constantly complimented on the beauty/radiance of skin, and people always comment on how energetic I always am. I attribute both my appearance and energy levels in large part to my unorthodox and politically incorrect diet.

    Ironic…..

    Hi Jonathon–

    It’s weird how that ‘horrible’ diet keeps you looking so good while those on ‘perfect’ diets look like crap.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  10. Dr Eades,
    Does supplementing with Q10/lipoic acid reduce endogenous production? I was wondering if that was the reason behind your sporadic use?

    What about acetyl l-carnitine? I would love to drop it if there is no need.

    Thanks so much for this update.

    I hate the idea of you wading through so much spam. Hard choices coming, I am grateful and amazed for what you are trying to do.

    Cheers David

    Hi David–

    I don’t think taking either CoQ10 or alpha lipoic acid will reduce the body’s synthesis of it.  I use it sporadically because I remember it sporadically.

    Acetyl l-carnitine is a good brain nutrient.  Unlike l-carnitine, which is a good fat-burning nutrient, which doesn’t cross into the brain, the acetyl l formulation does.  I take it sporadically as well.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  11. “And I take vitamin D3 in large doses throughout the winter.”

    I’m curious, how much do you take? I’m taking about 2000-2400 IU a day, from cod liver oil, but it seems to not be much when compared to what we can get from the summer sun.

    What is the maximal amount I should take during summer? I’d like to keep taking the cod liver oil, mostly for the vitamin A.

    Max the carnivore

    Hi Max–

    I take from vitamin D3 5,000 to 10,000 IU daily in the winter depending upon whether I have a little or no sun exposure in a given day. 

    I don’t think you have to worry about the cod liver oil even in the summer.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  12. Sir not yr diet but low carb nonetheless and seemingly with impressive results. From todays UK Times

    This proves Atkins is best diet, say scientists
    John Elliott

    A SCIENTIFIC study into the controversial Atkins diet suggests that it can be one of the most effective ways for women to lose weight.

    At the end of 12 months, overweight subjects on the Atkins regime had lost twice as much weight on average as women on three competing diets. Atkins minimises carbohydrates, such as bread and sugar, in favour of meat and other proteins.

    However, amid increasing concern that its devotees miss out on vital nutrients, it has recently been supplanted by new regimes such as the GI diet, which consists of foods that release glucose slowly and evenly into the bloodstream.

    This week, however, the study will say Atkins produced more weight loss with no signs of undesirable side-effects.

    “So many people have been asking questions about diets for years. We think it’s time to give them some answers,” said Christopher Gardner, professor of medicine at Stanford University’s disease prevention research centre in California, who led the study.

    “We have an epidemic of obesity that’s still on the rise, and the ideas of our best and brightest people haven’t been able to change that.”

    In the study, 311 pre-meno-pausal, overweight women were asked to follow one of four regimes: the Atkins, Zone, Learn or Ornish diet. Each involve a different level of carbohydrate intake. The Atkins diet recommends the lowest level, the Zone diet a little more.

    The Learn (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition) diet follows the American government’s recommendations for a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates.

    The Ornish diet is very high in carbohydrates and extremely low in fat.

    After a year, the 77 women in the Atkins group lost an average 10lb — about twice as much as those on the Learn and Ornish diets. Women on the Zone lost an average of 3.5lb.

    Women in the Atkins group also achieved larger reductions in body mass index, triglycerides and blood pressure — all signs of improved health.

    Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council, said the reason for Atkins’s success was that people found a diet that allowed high intakes of meat and fat easier to follow than other more spartan regimes.

    In Britain, the Atkins diet reached its peak popularity around 2003 when a survey indicated that 3m people were on it. It was endorsed by celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston. Its popularity has since waned.

    Has Atkins worked for you or are other diets better?

    Have your say

    Hi Simon–

    I can’t find the actual paper for this, so it must have been presented at a meeting with publication to follow.  Tje findings are interesting, but not unexpected.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  13. Sir thanks yr answer ref afterlife
    I forgot to include the word ‘conscious’ in the life after life q.

    Apologies..after i posted i realized it was a non starter and also you’d answered it in yr very first post.

    Do you know about the Islamic Virgins and them seemingly being a mistranslation of white raisins which were highly prized at the time when the Koran was being edited ?
    Horrifically hilarious vis all its implications.

    Sinc.

    Hi Simon–

    No, I didn’t know about the white raisins.

    Check out the long article in today’s New York Times Magazine about God and Darwin.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  14. This is for Sue in #2 Comment. If you read the book “The Ketogenic Diet” by Freeman, Kossoff, Freeman, & Kelly, it talks all about Ketogenic diet (mostly for children) including the history which goes back into the early 1920’s in the US and was used widely until Dilantin became available in 1939. The diet was basically then abandoned in favor of drug usage, which is easier to do than the diet. The diet still works however even and especially for those patients for whom the medicines do not work or cause intolerable side effects. It also states that the diet in a significant fraction of cases after a period of time of from months to years cures the epilepy so that if the patient goes off the diet he will not have seizures. It is powerful medicine. There is a program at Johns Hopkins University that utilizes it now. The book however does not speculate on the mode of action of the diet. The diet was empirically derived from fasting cures which were used earlier in history and which also work but can not be sustained over time. The diet is also low protein and thus very high in fat because a significant portion of the protein is utilized for gluconeogenesis and can reduce the ketone levels.

    Porter

  15. Dr Mike….can you please post about the importance of saturated fats along with the omegas? You constantly hear that the only essential fats are omega 3 & omega 6, but my understanding is that a certain amount of saturated fat is needed also.

    Hi Cindy–

    I don’t think saturated fats are essential in the sense that omega 3s and omega 6s are, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not healthful.  We can make saturated fats out of carbs, so we don’t really need them in the diet.  The body converts excess carbs to palmitic acid, a saturated fat.  It would seem to me that if saturated fats were truly as bad as Ornish and all the other pinheads say they are, our own bodies wouldn’t make them.  They would make the wonderfully healthful (gag) polyunsaturated fats that these folks are in such a swoon over, but they don’t.  They make saturated fat instead.  Interesting, no?

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  16. Dr Eades, here’s the article from the Times:

    Glenice

    Hi Glenice–

    Thanks.  I’ve seen the article in the Times; what I can’t find is any article in the scientific literature.  I’m sure the results of this study were presented at a medical conference and will ultimately be published in a medical journal, but that hasn’t happened yet.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  17. I think the study is due for publishing this week

    ” This week, however, the study will say……”

    Hi Neil–

    Yep, it’s coming out tomorrow.

    MRE 

  18. One of the spam approaches for comment systems I’ve seen recently consists of adding a text field with a meaningful name to an invisible div. If the field contains data when submitted, it’s spam. I’m sure the spammers will soon adapt to this method, but anecdotal evidence I’ve read online shows it has been working reasonably well. The reason it works is that the spammers use software to post the form to your server, and the software isn’t smart enough (yet) to realize the field is hidden.

    Anyway…good luck with the spam and thanks for another great article.

    Hi hap–

    Thanks.  I’m working on it.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  19. Hi Mike,

    I don’t know about you but I really enjoyed Robin Henig’s piece in the New York Times … apart from the last bit! David Barrett’s suggestion that we are hard wired to believe in the supernatural … by design, is of course a logical possibility, but not the most likely based on all the evidence and discussion she has gathered (but no doubt provides great comfort for those that dismiss evolutionary processes of any kind in favour of so called “intelligent design”) Likewise, her rather depressing conclusion seems at odds with the comprehensive analysis (for which she deserves credit) that precedes it.

    Personally I see at least some merit in the adaptionist point of view, because as I see it, there is evolutionary advantage and value to both the individual and the group in the ‘crowd control’ aspect of religion and the natural progression of all societies to adopt the supernatural to provide simple unanswerable solutions to otherwise difficult questions are most easily seen in (again, the almost universal) parental devices to control and protect children (eg Santa Claus,Tooth Fairy, Sandman etc.

    I’m not sure if you want to start a deabte on these issues though!

    BTW, I’m half way through Richard Dawkins latest and the most striking thing so far is what an enlightened man Jefferson was! (surely not news to anyone in your country) – but sadly, anyone similarly endowed these days would not have a chance at election should they be as honest about their views as he was – and even more sadly, the same is increasingly true here.

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    Hi Malcolm–

    I, too, thought it was a good article. I don’t mind starting a debate on it as long as I don’t have to participate (I’m way behind on a thousand projects). I’ll be happy to simply post any and all comments (as long as they’re civil), so comment away anyone who wants. Here is the link to the article.

    Yes, Thomas Jefferson was quite a guy. And would probably be unelectable today. If you’re ever in Virginia you should stop by and see Monticello. It’s a spectacular place with many of Jefferson’s inventions on display. Too bad he wasn’t as smart financially as he was in most other ways–apparently he was pretty much a failure as a plantation owner.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  20. Do you remember MSM, methylsulfonylmethane?
    It was a big deal supplement about a decade ago, touted as a cure-all for many things. It IS helpful for hair, skin, and nails, as I know anecdotally from my own experience.

    Is this also a source for methylation? The reason I ask is that I’m very particular in the multivitamin I take, and it has 500 mg of MSM. I would like to know if it’s also helpful for methylation AND the hair-skin-nails thing. It would be nice to be getting more bang for my buck!

    Hi LC–

    I do remember MSM.  I don’t think it is involved in methylation although it does contain sulfur and can be a source of that element.  As I recall, it works primarily to ease joint pain, but no one is really sure of its mechanism of action.  I do remember that it is prone to heavy metal contamination if not manufactured properly.

    Cheers–

    MRE 

  21. I was interested in your comments about membrane fluidity. I wonder if you could do a future blog about membrane fluidity and the various factors that affect it in addition to methylation.It would be great if you could include places to go for more information on this.
    Hi Gretchen–

    I will add the blog on factors determining membrane fluidity to my growing list.

    For now, you can go to PubMed or a scientific search engine such as Scirus and enter phospholipid methylation membrane fluidity (or rigidity) and probably get enough hits to keep you busy for a while.

    Good luck.

    MRE 

  22. Dr. Mike, wondering if your supplement intake has changed any since you wrote:

    “I take krill oil, fish oil, and curcumin daily without fail. I also take a vitamin E daily to stabilize the fats in the fish and krill oil. I take CoQ10 and lipoic acid several times per week. I take a multivitamin every now and then. And I take vitamin D3 in large doses throughout the winter.”

    I want overall a healthy weight, good overall health and as one who had a stent placed for blockage, I want to beat heart disease! It’s so confusing what to take and how much! Doing better on sticking to PP anyway.

    Nope, I haven’t changed. That’s pretty much my supplement regimen. I guess I forgot to mention that I always take a magnesium supplement as well. At least 300 mg of chelated magnesium per day.

    Cheers–

    MRE

  23. Dr Mike, Could you please comment on the advantages of taking R-Lipoic Acid versus Alpha Lipoic Acid. I’ve recently read a book by Michael Colgan that claims that R Lipoic is superior and would value your opinion.

    From what I’ve read on it, the R-lipoic acid appears to be a better product. But, having said that, I can tell you that I haven’t read a lot on the subject.

  24. Dear Mike,

    Hate to throw a “spanner in one of the work’s of a current hypothesis in nutrition, but . . !

    My understanding of the rationale underpinning the use of the term anti-oxidants, is that the creation of oxides and super-oxides, called “oxidative stress” is one of the bases of ageing, as succinctly stated by you above.
    Here is a link to the BBC Health Website concerning an engineered nematode worm, which on first reading is a study which falsifies the hypothesis that “reducing oxidative stress prolongs life”.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7754644.stm
    I was quite impressed by your post on the engineered C57BL/6 mouse and its role in falsifying the hypothesis that “metabolic advantage cannot exist as it is forbidden by 2nd law of thermodynamics”.

    Does this study do the same for “oxidative stress” hypothesis of ageing?

    Note the comments of Dr David Gems “The free radical theory has filled a knowledge vacuum for over 50 years now, but it doesn’t stand up to the evidence”.

    It seems that some other hypothesis needs to conceptualize any benefits that various supplements may have on prolonging a the high proportion of working cells needed for longer life. Are there any others around, I wonder?

    Desmondo

    The use of antioxidants has been a huge disappointment. If the free-radical theory of aging is true, then antioxidants should prolong life, but they don’t. Which indicates the theory as stated isn’t quit ready for prime time yet, i.e., it needs to be tweaked, or it isn’t valid. Read Aubrey de Grey.