© 1991-2015 Jerry Emanuelson

Some notes about vitamin and mineral supplements


The importance of dietary and supplemental antioxidants has been a subject of widespread discussion in recent years.  Here are some important, but little-known facts about antioxidant supplements:


  • It is important to consume a broad spectrum of different kinds of antioxidants.  In the process of quenching some free radicals, many antioxidants produce other free radicals.  A broad spectrum of different types of antioxidants will produce a optimal reduction of free radical damage.  Many antioxidants, if taken alone, will have no beneficial effect.  A few may even be harmful in certain circumstances if used alone.


  • It is especially important to maintain a good ratio of vitamin C to vitamin E.  The best ratio appears to be between about 4 to 1 and 10 to 1 (measured as a ratio of milligrams of vitamin C to international units of vitamin E).


  • Although beta carotene is the most popular of the family of fat-soluble antioxidants called carotenoids, other carotenoids, such as lycopene and astaxanthin, may actually be more important.  Lycopene is the substance that makes some fruits red: tomatoes, watermelon, red grapefruit, etc.  Lycopene supplements are now commonly available.  Some fruit and vegetable concentrates containing standard amounts of lycopene are also available.


  • Two other important carotenoids are lutein and zeaxanthin, which are concentrated in the macula, the central area of the retina of the eye.  There is very good evidence that lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent age-related macular degeneration, a very common cause of vision problems in old age.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in vegetables such as broccoli.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are now available as nutritional supplements.  If you are at a significant risk for macular degeneration, other nutrients such as zinc are particularly important.


  • There is increasing evidence of the importance of getting a mixture of carotenes.  It may be wise to try to find a good multi-carotene supplement.


  • A broad spectrum of the more common antioxidants will improve general health, but will not significantly extend lifespan or slow the basic aging process.  A major reason for this is that many antioxidants do not penetrate into the cell's mitochondria.  The mitochondria are the primary energy-producing components of the cell.  The mitochondria have their own antioxidant system.  The most abundant natural antioxidant in the body is copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (Cu-Zn-SOD).  The most abundant antioxidant in the mitochondria is manganese superoxide dismutase (Mn-SOD).  This is why a good antioxidant supplement will contain a trace amount of manganese.


  • Two antioxidants that will penetrate the mitochondria are N-Acetyl-Cysteine and melatonin.  Another very important nutrient to prevent mitochondrial oxidation is alpha lipoic acid (or R-lipoic acid).  An excellent nutrient combination for preventing mitochondrial oxidation is the combination of time-released alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-l-carnitine.


  • Vitamin E itself has no apparent toxicity, even in very large doses.  Vitamin E, itself, will not have any significant adverse effects on blood clotting.  However, a breakdown product of vitamin E, called vitamin E quinone, does substantially inhibit blood clotting.  The rate of conversion of vitamin E to vitamin E quinone varies greatly from person to person.  In a few individuals, several hundred I.U of vitamin E may cause serious problems with normal clotting.   The conversion of vitamin E to vitamin E quinone can be slowed by taking a broad spectrum of antioxidants, including vitamin C.  Nearly all antioxidants produce pro-oxidants in the process of doing their job, and vitamin E is especially bad about this.  For this reason, it is best not to take excessively large doses of vitamin E and to only take vitamin E along with other antioxidants (especially vitamin C, as mentioned above).  Vitamin E should generally be taken principally as the gamma tocopherol form.  The more commonly available alpha tocopherol is definitely not the best form of this vitamin.


  • Two of the best supplemental antioxidants are time-released alpha-lipoic acid (300 to 900 mg. per day) and astaxanthin (4 mg. per day).

To cut through the nonsense about vitamin and mineral supplements that comes from conventional physicians and the popular media, read the review articles on the subject in legitimate medical journals.  One comprehensive review of the subject is:

  • Hathcock, John N., Vitamins and Minerals: Efficacy and Safety, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997;66  pp. 427-437.

This comprehensive article includes 152 references.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is available at most university or medical libraries.  The abstract text of this article is available at the web site of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition web site.

The full text of this article, in Adobe PDF format, is also available at the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition web site.  The full text of the article is at Vitamins and Minerals: Efficacy and Safety.


Before taking any nutritional supplement, it is always wise to check on the purity and accuracy of the labeling as determined by a third-party laboratory.  Anyone who spends much money on nutritional supplements should consider joining a subscription-based quality assurance reporting service such as Consumer Lab.


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