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Anti-ageing supplements: Do they exist?

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

More and more people are looking for the magic pill that will slow down, stop or even reverse the ageing process. However, there is better news for people with more modest hopes - those who want to age in a healthy manner and are looking for a feeling of wellbeing.

There may not be anti- ageing supplements that can turn back the clock, smooth away your wrinkles and grant you the vigour of an eighteen-year-old, but there are supplements that could help maintain your health as you age - at least when combined with a healthy lifestyle. Here’s what the experts say about so-called anti- ageing supplements.

Anti-ageing supplements: What works and what doesn’t?

To give an idea of the options, the following is a review of available supplements. Some might help you maintain your health as you get older. Other “anti- ageing” supplements have more hype than evidence.

Antioxidants. You’ve probably heard about the supposed wonders of antioxidants. They’re substances found in many fruits and vegetables. Examples include beta-carotene, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, lycopene and resveratrol. Antioxidants gained a reputation as anti-ageing supplements because they seem to protect cells from damage caused by organic compounds called free radicals. They also seem to offer an explanation for why people who eat more fruit and vegetables tend to have lower rates of some diseases. Could antioxidants protect cells against damage from disease - and even ageing itself?

While lab studies have found that antioxidants have benefits, many studies of people taking antioxidant supplements have not. Some studies found that people taking antioxidant supplements like vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene actually had a higher risk of death.

Why? Fruit and vegetables have hundreds or thousands of substances in them. These include antioxidants and other compounds. Extracting a single antioxidant and putting it in a pill may not be enough. It’s possible that some other substance, or combination of substances, is what really offers the health benefit.

In a leaf of spinach, for example, there’s a synergy that you can’t get from a supplement bottle. However, the idea of a mortal struggle between the valiant antioxidants and the villainous free radicals could be off the mark. It may not be that simple. There is much that we don’t know. Some kinds of free radicals are actually important for health, while it’s also possible that taking too many antioxidants could be risky. So what’s the bottom line? Antioxidants could still turn out to be crucial in preventing disease and extending life. But for now, the evidence that antioxidants work as anti-ageing supplements is weak.

Anti-inflammatory supplements. Experts have found that inflammation is a common factor in all sorts of diseases, ranging from arthritis to heart disease to headaches. Whether it’s swelling of the knee or swelling in the blood vessels, it can have a serious impact on your health.

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