The Los Angeles Times reports today (Thomas H. Maugh II, "Report questions value and safety of some vitamins," Wednesday, February 28, 2007, A10) that "a large Danish study released Tuesday found that vitamin E and other antioxidant supplements provided no health benefits and might even produce a small increase in the incidence of death." I can't comment on the study or its research design, because I haven't read it, but I can suggest two misconceptions that appear in the newspaper article (perhaps picked up from the study or representing the reporter's ignorance).
First, the article misrepresents the therapetic value of supplements, when it states, the study's "findings are similar to other studies suggesting that supplements are not as quick and easy a way to improve health as their promoters claim." No knowledgeable health official or doctor claims that supplements provide a "quick and easy" path to improve health; this is a "straw man" argument. Supplements work by definition and by action over the long term, meaning months or years.
Second, supplements' primary role is to maintain and promote health, not fight disease in the direct sense of cause and effect. Supplements work indirectly to support the human body's own capability to fight disease. The article aptly quotes Dr. Balz Frei, who heads the Linus Pauling Institute, that efforts to produce improvement in a disease condition work with drugs, but that " 'is never going to work with a dietary supplement,' he said. 'You can't undo the damage of decades by giving a dietary supplement for a couple of years.' "
The pharmaceutical paradigm that rules in orthodox medicine has Americans convinced that they can abuse their bodies and minds by any outrageous behavior, any toxic consumption, and excessive consumption they desire, then instantaneously remove the diseases they have induced by that behavior by popping a few chemical pills. The pills may remove symptoms, but do they remove the disease or remedy the condition producing the symptoms? In many cases, no; that is the problem.
There are many illnesses, injuries, and diseases that cannot be remedied by naturopathy; a broken bone stalling to mend, a malignant cancer, or raging lung infection are not going to be "cured" in a week or two by antioxidants, Vitamin E or C, or any other natural remedy or supplement. But the body, whose dilapitated immune system, corrupted blood system, fitful hormones, and malfunctioning organs allowed a bone infection, or cancer, or viral lung infection to rage in the first place, can often be remedied over the long term by a lifestyle focus on health supported by appropriate natural remedies and dietary supplements. It is the maintenance and restoration of health that should be the primary focus of our health system.