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Researchers invited 4,447 French adults, who were 45 to 60 years old at the time of enrollment into the study, to look at the connection between dietary supplements and maintaining memory over time.
Participants were randomly selected to receive one of the following daily for eight years: a supplement containing 120 mg of vitamin C, 6 mg of beta carotene, 30 mg of vitamin E, 100 mcg of selenium, and 20 mg of zinc, or a placebo with no active ingredients.
Approximately six years after the end of the study, participants completed tests of thinking (cognitive) ability to assess:
The tests revealed that compared with the no antioxidant group, those who received daily antioxidant supplements had significantly better verbal memory. The researchers noted that antioxidant supplements improved verbal memory only in people who were nonsmokers or who had low vitamin C blood levels at the start of the study.
While interpreting these results, it is important to note the important conclusions the authors draw from the study results:
The take-home message is clear. Antioxidant supplements may be helpful, but only if you don’t smoke and, in particular, when you may not be getting enough of these nutrients from food alone. And plenty of other studies support the beneficial effects of getting your antioxidants from plants: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
If you suspect your diet isn’t giving you enough antioxidants for good health, talk to your doctor or dietitian about whether a supplement is right for you. Keep in mind, if you smoke, antioxidants supplements of any kind may do more harm than good.
(Am J Clin Nutr; published online ahead of print July 20, 2011, as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.007815)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.