One natural therapy that has recently gained momentum for reducing pain is antioxidant therapy. In this article, we will review what research says about whether antioxidant therapy is a good option for people who suffer from chronic pain. First, however, we will go through some of the basics of antioxidant therapy for those who haven’t heard of it before.
What is Antioxidant Therapy?
Scientists and health specialists have known about the benefits of foods high in antioxidants for our health for quite a while. From a pharmacological perspective, there has been increasing interest in developing antioxidants in pill or supplement form to potentiate their use for health purposes, but also to take advantage of the market potential.
Antioxidant therapy is the term used when a person uses any antioxidant agent (like antioxidant vitamins, glutathione reductase or superoxide dismutase) with the goal of eliminating or reducing free radicals in the body that may be causing oxidative stress and cell damage. While free radicals are a natural product of normal metabolic reactions, excess free radicals have been linked to many illnesses and conditions, including:
Antioxidants counteract free radicals to help prevent cell damage that can cause some of the diseases mentioned above.
Antioxidants are naturally found in a variety of foods, but mostly fruits and vegetables. These include: green-leafy vegetables, squash, carrots, tomatoes, sweet peppers, berries, melon, papaya, pineapple, kiwi and hundreds more.
While most antioxidants we consume come from the foods we eat, it is possible to get megadoses of antioxidants in pill form, in this case, for therapeutic purposes.
Uses of Antioxidant Therapy for Pain
There isn’t much evidence about the use of antioxidant therapy for pain, and the evidence that exists is conflicting.
For pain related to chronic pancreatitis, for example, a study published in 2006 concluded that combined antioxidant therapy reduces pain and reduced quality of life for patients. Then, six years later, another study published in Gastroenterology determined the exact opposite.
A small study published in 2003 had the goal of determining the need for antioxidant therapy in patients with rheumatoid arthritis because the blood concentrations of antioxidants were compromised. They show the theoretic need for something like antioxidant therapy, but weren’t able to demonstrate a positive effect.
The end effect of untreated, uncontrolled illness is death, and it is still important to consider the evidence that relates antioxidant therapy compared to the risk of mortality. A study by Bjelakovic examined the effect of antioxidant supplements (namely, A, C, E, and selenium vs. placebo or no intervention) on mortality. The study reviewed 78 randomized trials and over 200,000 participants.
The study found that, overall, the antioxidant supplements had no significant effect on mortality in a meta-analysis, and the study recommended that thorough investigation be conducted before antioxidant supplements are marketed freely.
Wrapping It Up
Even though antioxidant therapy was met with enthusiasm when it was first implemented in a widespread manner in the 70s and 80s, there is a lack of clinical evidence that demonstrates its effectiveness for a range of diseases, not to mention pain.
One of the reasons could be due to the design of clinical trials that aren’t able to capture beneficial effects or, more likely, because antioxidants consumed as part of a healthy diet cannot be replaced by a diet that depends on supplements for its main source of antioxidants.
If you are looking for dietary solutions to your chronic pain, look to foods that are naturally high in antioxidants and healthy omega-3 fats, rather than supplements. Remember that there are still many components in foods that researchers have not discovered, or aren’t sure how they interact with other elements. By taking the antioxidant out of the food, we may be removing elements that make antioxidants more effective. As a result, natural antioxidants don’t seem to be suitable drug candidates.
If you are interested in antioxidant therapy, talk to your doctor about it. There is still a long way to go in terms of advanced in proven effectiveness of antioxidants for therapeutic purposes. In general, however, aim to get your antioxidants from the foods you eat, not from pills.