Antioxidants - not a panacea?
Antioxidants (as found in herbs as well as vitamin supplements) have been promoted heavily in recent years for their health benefits, including supposed anti-aging and anticancer effects. The basic mechanism is claimed to be protection of cells from oxidant damage. However, evidence keeps accumulating that antioxidant supplements aren't working out like they're supposed to.
One new study suggests antiaging effects (claimed by the beauty products industry and others) don't occur (this study is limited by the fact that it took place in nematodes, which while they share many genes with humans and are convenient to study, are not strictly comparable to people).
Also just out - a large extended trial of selenium and vitamin E, which found that these antioxidants in general don't decrease the risk of prostate cancer.
Another report which reviewed hundreds of clinical trials has found that antioxidants don't decrease the risk of early death, and may even increase risks (though by small amounts for various diseases). The bottom line seems to be that eating an overall good diet (and not too many calories) is what's best, not relying on antioxidants to make up for poor diet:
"Dr Frankie Phillips, a nutritionist at the British Dietetic Association, said food contained a complex matrix of different components which could not be replicated by supplements.
"Our advice is to eat a wide range of foods in a balanced diet which can provide all of the nutrients the body needs to protect itself and combat diseases.""
What I take away from all this is that benefits of herbal drugs and other supplements should not be assumed on the basis of their antioxidant content, and that healthy eating and lifestyle are much more important than "magic bullets".