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November 9, 1994

All That Glitters Is Not Beta Carotene

Author Affiliations

From the Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Drs Hankinson and Stampfer), and the Departments of Epidemiology (Drs Hankinson and Stampfer) and Nutrition (Dr Stampfer), Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1994;272(18):1455-1456. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520180079040

After a long series of increasingly optimistic reports about the potential health benefits of dietary antioxidants, two reports of randomized trials considerably dampened the enthusiasm for these nutrients. The Finnish trial of beta carotene and vitamin E failed to show a reduction in lung cancer or cardiovascular disease among heavy smokers,1 and the Dartmouth trial showed no benefit of antioxidants for prevention of colon polyp recurrence.2 Now, in this issue of THE JOURNAL, two reports appear that link high antioxidant intake with reduced risk of coronary disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).3,4 What are we to make of these findings?

See also pp 1413 and 1439.

Morris et al3 observed a strong inverse association between total plasma carotenoids and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) (relative risk, 0.64 between highest and lowest quartiles). Individual carotenoids were not assayed; thus, the authors appropriately caution against attributing

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