People have claimed that antioxidants are important for treating or preventing all kinds of diseases. The argument has been that “free radicals” are produced in the body and can cause harm to tissues through injury to proteins, DNA and lipids.
Antioxidants are supposed to slow down or reverse these degenerative changes associated with free radicals. Vitamin E, for example, has been suggested as a treatment for heart disease. Recent studies, though, have failed to demonstrate clearly positive results with Vitamin E supplementation.[i]
On a theoretical basis, the notion of consuming antioxidants to slow or reduce degenerative changes makes some sense. That is in part why I found a recent study published in the journal Spine interesting.[ii]
The study looked at the relationship of bone spurring (lumbar osteophyte formation) on x—rays with serum levels of antioxidants (carotenes, Vitamin A, Vitamin E).
In the study 286 people were screened with x-rays, serum levels of antioxidants, triglyceride levels, history of alcohol intake, osteoporosis, back muscle strength and other factors. The investigators found that “a low beta-carotene level was the strongest risk factor for osteophyte formation [or the development of bone spurring].” [iii]
Bone Spurring (Osteophyte Formation) in the Lumbar Spine
A related study showed that Vitamin E can have an inhibitory effect on the onset of knee osteoarthritis.[iv]
It should be noted that this study is not commenting directly on issues of pain. There are not any studies to date showing a direct line between pain and antioxidant consumption. However, the emerging evidence certainly highlights the association between beta-carotene and lumbar spine degeneration.
So if you want to prevent degenerative changes in the spine it may be worth eating more carrots (or whatever antioxidant rich foods you choose).
Beta-carotene: It does a body good.