Can antioxidant vitamins materially reduce oxidative damage in humans?

Free Radic Biol Med. 1999 Apr;26(7-8):1034-53. doi: 10.1016/s0891-5849(98)00302-5.


Endogenous oxidative damage to proteins, lipids, and DNA is thought to be an important etiologic factor in aging and the development of chronic diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and cataract formation. The pathology associated with these diseases is likely to occur only after the production of reactive oxygen species has exceeded the body's or cell's capacity to protect itself and effectively repair oxidative damage. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, often referred to as "antioxidant vitamins," have been suggested to limit oxidative damage in humans, thereby lowering the risk of certain chronic diseases. However, epidemiological studies and clinical trials examining the efficacy of antioxidant vitamins, either individually or in combination, to affect disease outcome rarely address possible underlying mechanisms. Thus, in these studies it is often assumed that antioxidant vitamins act by lowering oxidative damage, but evidence in support of this contention is not provided. Therefore, in this review, we examine the scientific evidence that supplementation of humans with vitamin C, vitamin E, or beta-carotene lowers in vivo oxidative damage to lipids, proteins, or DNA based on the measurement of oxidative biomarkers, not disease outcome. With the only exception of supplemental vitamin E, and possibly vitamin C, being able to significantly lower lipid oxidative damage in both smokers and nonsmokers, the current evidence is insufficient to conclude that antioxidant vitamin supplementation materially reduces oxidative damage in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants* / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Vitamins* / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Vitamins
  • oxidized low density lipoprotein