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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine August 2000

A Critical Analysis of The National Academy of Sciences' Attack on Dietary Supplements 

What About The Other Carotenoids?


In recommending against taking beta-carotene supplements, the authors also recommended against supplementation with all other carotenoids (such as lycopene and lutein). Their basis was that “insufficient evidence” existing to establish an effective daily requirement for these other carotenoids.

The authors presented several positive studies showing high levels of lycopene in the diet or in serum resulted in reduced risks of cancer. One study showed that daily intake of 6.46 mg of lycopene resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

The authors then site in the 512-page book two additional positive overview studies showing a multitude of potential health benefits of lycopene and one no-response study conducted in Asia in which blood levels of lycopene did not affect prostate cancer risk. The authors attributed the lack of effect in this no-response study to the fact that tomato products are not widely consumed in Asia, and the test subjects as a group, therefore, had very low lycopene levels to begin with.

The authors related the results of many studies showing that women with low carotenoid status have about three times greater risk of cervical cancer.

Omitted were several hundred studies showing specific reductions in disease risk in those who consumed high amounts of lycopene, lutein, alpha- carotene and/or other carotenoids in food or supplement form.(355-555) These omissions would lead the reader to believe there is only limited positive data about the health benefits of the “other carotenoids.”

The authors caution against taking carotenoid supplements, but fail to discuss studies indicating that when combined with other supplements, the carotenoids exhibit potent disease-prevention effects. One such study(413) examined the effects of lycopene and vitamin E on the growth of two human prostate cancer cell lines. Lycopene by itself was not a potent inhibitor of prostate cancer cell growth, but when combined with vitamin E, “a strong inhibitory effect of prostate carcinoma cell proliferation, which reached values close to 90%, was observed.” The scientists noted the synergistic effect of lycopene and vitamin E.

Another omitted study(380) showed that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene had a 25% reduced risk of any type of prostate cancer and a 44% reduction in their risk of aggressive prostate cancer. An interesting paradox to this study was that in men with low lycopene, beta-carotene supplements were associated with risk reductions comparable to those observed with high lycopene. The doctors concluded this study by stating:

"These data provide further evidence that increased consumption of tomato products and other lycopene-containing foods might reduce the occurrence or progression of prostate cancer."

The authors omitted a study(370) that examined the effect of daily consumption of a tomato juice supplemented with vitamin C (600 mg), vitamin E (400 IU, or 400 mg) and beta-carotene (30 mg) on various indexes of lipid peroxidation in smokers. The findings showed that relative to the placebo juice (that contained no added vitamins), the vitamin-supplemented juice resulted in a significant decrease in measurements of lipid peroxidation such as breath-pentane excretion as well as a significant improvement in the resistance of LDL to oxidation. The scientists conducting this study concluded:

"This study thus indicates that an antioxidant-supplemented drink can reduce lipid peroxidation and susceptibility of LDL to oxidation in smokers and may ameliorate the oxidative stress of cigarette smoke."

Another omitted study discussed the synergistic benefits of carotenoids(371) in protecting against free radicals. This study ranked the various carotenoids based on their antioxidant ability and found that lycopene was the most potent. The scientists noted that:

"Mixtures of carotenoids were more effective than the single compounds. This synergistic effect was most pronounced when lycopene or lutein was present. The superior protection of mixtures may be related to specific positioning of different carotenoids in membranes."

Also omitted were studies showing protection against immune cell oxidative stress when serum lycopene and other carotenoid levels were increased. (369,374) One study showed a 45% increase in cellular glutathione in response to lycopene supplementation.(421)

The authors stated virtually nothing about the benefits of lutein in protecting against certain cancers. The authors did relate studies showing that those who consumed high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin had “a 60% lowered risk” of macular degeneration. Other studies related by the authors showed high intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin reduced cataract risk by about 20%. Despite these revelations, the authors concluded that:

"Insufficient Macular Pigment Optical Density studies have been conducted to date to make recommendations relative to dietary intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin."

As it relates to cardiovascular disease, the authors omitted a study(505) showing that in elderly people, high serum levels of lycopene reduced the risk of aortic atherosclerosis by 45% in nonsmokers and by a staggering 65% in smokers. The scientists concluded that:

"Our findings suggest that lycopene may play a protective role in the development of atherosclerosis."

Other studies(433,438) show that lycopene induces a specific artery-protecting effect by protecting LDL cholesterol against oxidation, thus decreasing the risk for coronary heart disease.

Lycopene was first made available in supplemental form because of a study showing that it might protect against the development of pancreatic cancer. Subsequent studies(445,446) have confirmed that low lycopene (and selenium) levels are present in pancreatic cancer patients compared to controls. Inflammation of the pancreas greatly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer and one study showed that patients with chronic pancreatitis(503) had significantly lower plasma concentrations of antioxidants including selenium, vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene and lycopene. This study was also omitted from the 512-page book.

Doctors are now evaluating the effects of lycopene in the treatment of many cancers. One study(430) showed that a combination of lycopene and vitamin D3 was effective in inhibiting a promyelocytic leukemia cell line. The scientists conducting this study concluded that:

"The combination of low concentrations of lycopene with vitamin D3 exhibited a synergistic effect on cell proliferation and differentiation and an additive effect on cell cycle progression. Such synergistic antiproliferative and differentiating effects of lycopene and other compounds found in the diet and in plasma may suggest the inclusion of the carotenoid in the diet as a cancer-preventive measure."

At the April 12, 1999 meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, a presentation was made showing that the administration of 15 mg twice a day of a lycopene supplement to prostate cancer patients for 30 days resulted in a 20% reduction in PSA and a shrinkage of tumor volume.

While the authors were bashing beta-carotene because it failed to prevent lung cancer in long-term smokers, they ignored another study(434) showing that high serum levels of lycopene conferred a 44% risk reduction in lung cancer, whereas high serum levels of beta-carotene and other nutrients had no effect on lung cancer risk.

The sheer number of positive published studies linking lycopene and other carotenoids to lowered disease risks makes a persuasive case for taking carotenoid supplements if adequate amounts are not obtained from dietary sources. At the same time, it has to be recognized that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that beneficial effects are most likely to occur when a wide range of carotenoids are consumed, along with sufficient amounts of other antioxidants like vitamin E, C and selenium to maintain the stability of these carotenoids in the body.



As previously stated, the press release issued by the National Academy of Sciences used to promote the 512-page book said:

"Insufficient evidence exists to support claims that taking megadoses of dietary antioxidants, such as selenium and vitamins C and E, or carotenoids, including beta-carotene, can prevent chronic diseases."

This statement, however, is contradicted by published findings presented in the 512-page book itself showing disease risk reduction benefits to vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and the carotenoids.

The 512-page book omitted many other positive published studies about these supplements. When these omissions are added to the favorable findings that were reported on in the book, it is difficult to ascertain how anyone concerned about protecting their health would not supplement with vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and the carotenoids.

The media’s response to the press release promoting the book was to question the value of all dietary supplements. Yet the book did not review folic acid, coenzyme Q10, B-vitamins, zinc or a host of other dietary supplements commonly consumed. These nutrients have shown considerable disease risk reduction benefits in several thousand published studies.

The overriding question is, Does this 512-page book have any meaning to the vitamin consumer who takes many different nutrients? Our unequivocal answer is no!

The serious vitamin consumer takes high potencies of 50 to 90 nutrients every day. Many of these nutrients work synergistically together to protect against disease. For instance, coenzyme Q10 has been shown to protect LDL cholesterol against vitamin E by-product-induced peroxidation. This fact was first published in the National Academy of Sciences’ own journal (Proc Natl Acad Sci; 1991, USA 88:1646-1650), but omitted from the 512-page book published by the National Academy of Sciences. As reported in the April 2000 issue of Life Extension magazine (pages 21-22), the reason vitamin E appears to work so well in some studies, but fails in other studies, may relate to the amount of coenzyme Q10 naturally present in the bodies of test subjects. Coenzyme Q10 may act as a “silent partner” in amplifying the beneficial effects of vitamin E, whereas a CoQ10 deficit may enable vitamin E breakdown products to induce certain types of free radicals.

While the serious vitamin consumer long-ago recognized the importance of taking synergistic antioxidant therapies, mainstream scientists remain fixated in attempting to evaluate the effects of one nutrient at a time. While this research is helpful in identifying potential life extending supplements, it does not provide the information needed by those who consume multiple nutrients.

The fundamental problem with the National Academy of Sciences’ 512-page book is that it focused primarily on studies involving single nutrients, while the serious vitamin consumer is taking many nutrients concomitantly. The 512-page book failed to address the synergistic effects of taking multiple dietary supplements.

One of the more positive conclusions from the 512-page book was the recommendation for “full-scale intervention trials to test the preventive potential of vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and the carotenoids for chronic disease.” While the authors allege there is “insufficient evidence” today, they acknowledge that the disease reducing potential of these nutrients should not be ignored.

This 512-page book was substantially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Canadian health ministry also provided funding. The FDA and Canadian health ministry have been historically biased against dietary supplements and may use this book to gain greater regulatory authority. As a propaganda tool, the book has been highly effective in persuading the media to generate anti-supplement reports worldwide.

The U.S. and Canadian governments spent considerable tax dollars funding this report that questions the value of vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and the carotenoids. People who rely on the popular press and Federal government to inform them about health matters may be dissuaded from using dietary supplements based on the misleading press release used to promote the book.

For those who understand the premise behind using multiple supplements to statistically reduce the risk of degenerative disease, the book will serve as a reminder that the government is still committed to disseminating false and misleading information against dietary supplements. This misinformation campaign continues despite the existence of persuasive evidence that the proper use of these supplements could dramatically reduce the incidences of cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, cataract, immune dysfunction and a host of other diseases related to aging.