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Update on Antioxidants

The National Cancer Institute has recently issued a fact sheet on cancer prevention and antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. The damage caused by free radicals may lead to cancer, and antioxidants, which interact with and stabilize free radicals, may prevent some of this damage. Beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins C, E, and A, as well as many other substances, are antioxidants. Fruits and vegetable are rich in antioxidants. Although there is a good deal of evidence from chemical, cell culture, and animal studies suggesting that antioxidants slow or prevent cancer development, results from recent studies in people in clinical trials are not consistent. During the 1990s, 5 large clinical trials reached different conclusions. Currently, there are 3 large clinical trials investigating the question. For more information, see Briefly, the 3 trials are the Women's Health Study (WHS), which examines the effects of vitamin E in primary prevention of cancer among American female health professionals who are age 45 years and older; the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT), which is trying to determine if taking selenium and/or vitamin E supplements can prevent prostate cancer in men age 50 and older; and the Physicians' Health Study II (PHSII), which follows up an earlier study on the effects of vitamins E and C and multivitamins on prostate cancer and total cancer incidence. The results of all of these studies will appear in the next several years. (Source: National Institutes of Health: National Cancer Institute.)


Multivitamins for Elders?

According to a recently released report by the Lewin Group and Wyeth Consumer Health, vitamin supplements deserve a look as a way to improve the overall health of the nation's elderly. The premise of the study was that a significant number of older adults fail to get the amounts and types of food necessary to meet their essential energy and nutrient needs. It was claimed that the cost of providing multivitamin supplements to elderly Americans over 5 years would be approximately $2.3 billion, but the Lewin group estimated that cost offsets associated with avoidable hospitalizations for heart attacks might be as high as $2.4 billion.


Can Hawthorn Help People With Heart Failure?

When researchers reviewed the data from 8 clinical trails of hawthorn in people with early-stage heart failure, they found that the hawthorn helped subjects experience less shortness of breath and fatigue while increasing activity levels than did placebo. Hawthorn, which is derived from the fruits, flowers, and leaves of the medium-sized tree, Crataegus laevigata, has been used for years as a treatment for various heart and circulatory disorders. Anecdotal evidence of side effects is low, and few side effects of the herb were noted in the study, a promising result because many heart failure drugs have significant undesirable consequences. It may work on 2 fronts: it strengthens the heart's contractions and dilates blood vessels (reducing peripheral resistance and lowering blood pressure) and possibly inhibits abnormal heart rhythms. Because the studies were all short-term, there is no evidence suggesting that hawthorn is effective as a long-term therapy. In any case, further research is needed, and for those with heart failure, hawthorn should not be used without a doctor's direction. (Consumer Reports on Health, October 2003, and The Honest Herbal)