DEAR DR. BLONZ: My diet is questionable, and I was recently persuaded to start using the antioxidant Pycnogenol by some friends (and a bunch of online advertisements). I thought that this antioxidant might be the best for whatever ails you, but I was wondering what you thought. -- A.S., Puma, Ariz.
DEAR A.S.: I am not certain what you might have heard about Pycnogenol. It is indeed an antioxidant supplement, but I wouldn't say it is "the best" for anything that might ail you. In fact, I wouldn't say that of any one type of antioxidant or supplement.
The body relies on a number of antioxidants, many of which it manufactures from the raw materials present in your diet. Others come from the foods themselves, such as the naturally occurring antioxidant substances found in grains, fruits, greens and other vegetables. These are the precise substances those plants rely on as living organisms, and many are able to be absorbed and work for us, as well. The most important message here is that the key to good health, good nutrition and effective antioxidant protection is to have an entire team working together. Supplements might be able to pitch in if needed, but they cannot do it all. Think of the interactions between the nutrients and phytochemicals in various combinations of whole foods as being like music performed by a symphony orchestra. A "questionable diet" plus a "whatever ails you" supplement should never be thought of as a reasonable alternative.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have read of the many health benefits of drinking tea. Are the same benefits derived from iced tea? Also, does the decaffeination process change the beneficial characteristics of the tea? -- D.S., San Diego
DEAR D.S.: There should be no difference in the health benefits between a tea that is consumed iced and one that is taken hot. The decaffeination process, however, is a mixed bag. Some use a steam process, while others remove the caffeine through the use of solvents. One factor to consider is the potential loss of the tea's beneficial phytochemicals, and I would expect there to be a greater loss with the solvent extraction.
One study using animals reported that regular black tea was the most effective in preventing skin cancer, followed by green tea, decaffeinated black tea, and finally decaffeinated green tea. They all had beneficial effects; it was just a matter of degree. Of interest was the suggestion that the caffeine itself might have some anti-cancer properties. There have been studies that have found that adding caffeine back to the decaffeinated tea restored much of its anti-cancer abilities. Indeed, caffeine was even found to have an ability to prevent certain cancers on its own. Please understand that these are specialized research studies where relatively large amounts of tea extracts or solids are given for a short period of time. It is unclear how much we can generalize from these studies.
The bottom line is that tea is a beverage to be enjoyed however you like it.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.