Is antioxidant therapy beneficial for people with chronic kidney disease?

People with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have high risk of developing heart disease and dying prematurely. Although heart disease has many causes, damage caused by poor oxygen exchange in the body's cells (oxidative stress) is thought to be a major problem. People with CKD often have evidence of oxidative stress and this is positively associated with the rate of kidney disease progression. We assessed current evidence to evaluate how antioxidant therapy influenced outcomes for patients with CKD. Overall, we found that antioxidant therapy did not reduce the risk of heart disease or death in people with CKD, but that this could vary depending on CKD stage. There was some evidence to suggest that people on dialysis may benefit from antioxidant treatment, and that these therapies could reduce the risk of kidney disease becoming worse. However, these results are based on very limited evidence and further studies are needed to confirm if antioxidant therapy could be of benefit for people with CKD.

Authors' conclusions: 

Although antioxidant therapy does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause death or major cardiovascular events in people with CKD, it is possible that some benefit may be present, particularly in those on dialysis. However, the small size and generally suboptimal quality of the included studies highlighted the need for sufficiently powered studies to confirm this possibility. Current evidence suggests that antioxidant therapy in predialysis CKD patients may prevent progression to ESKD; this finding was however based on a very small number of events. Further studies with longer follow-up are needed for confirmation. Appropriately powered studies are needed to reliably assess the effects of antioxidant therapy in people with CKD.

Read the full abstract...

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a significant risk factor for premature cardiovascular disease and death. Increased oxidative stress in people with CKD has been implicated as a potential causative factor for some cardiovascular diseases. Antioxidant therapy may reduce cardiovascular mortality and morbidity in people with CKD.


To examine the benefits and harms of antioxidant therapy on mortality and cardiovascular events in people with CKD stages 3 to 5; dialysis, and kidney transplantation patients.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Renal Group's specialised register (July 2011), CENTRAL (Issue 6, 2011), MEDLINE (from 1966) and EMBASE (from 1980).

Selection criteria: 

We included all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) investigating the use of antioxidants for people with CKD, or subsets of RCTs reporting outcomes for participants with CKD.

Data collection and analysis: 

Titles and abstracts were screened independently by two authors who also performed data extraction using standardised forms. Results were pooled using the random effects model and expressed as either risk ratios (RR) or mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Main results: 

We identified 10 studies (1979 participants) that assessed antioxidant therapy in haemodialysis patients (two studies); kidney transplant recipients (four studies); dialysis and non-dialysis CKD patients (one study); and patients requiring surgery (one study). Two additional studies reported the effect of an oral antioxidant inflammation modulator in patients with CKD (estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) 20 to 45 mL/min/1.73 m²), and post-hoc findings from a subgroup of people with mild-to-moderate renal insufficiency (serum creatinine ≥125 μmol/L) respectively. Interventions included different doses of vitamin E (two studies); multiple antioxidant therapy (three studies); co-enzyme Q (one study); acetylcysteine (one study); bardoxolone methyl (one study); and human recombinant superoxide dismutase (two studies).

Compared with placebo, antioxidant therapy showed no clear overall effect on cardiovascular mortality (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.70 to 1.27; P = 0.71); all-cause mortality (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.14; P = 0.48); cardiovascular disease (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.18; P = 0.24); coronary heart disease (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.42 to 1.23; P = 0.22); cerebrovascular disease (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.32; P = 0.63); or peripheral vascular disease (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.26 to 1.12; P = 0.10). Subgroup analyses found no evidence of significant heterogeneity based on proportions of males (P = 0.99) or diabetes (P = 0.87) for cardiovascular disease. There was significant heterogeneity for cardiovascular disease when studies were analysed by CKD stage (P = 0.003). Significant benefit was conferred by antioxidant therapy for cardiovascular disease prevention in dialysis patients (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.41 to 0.80; P = 0.001), although no effect was observed in CKD patients (RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.32; P = 0.63).

Antioxidant therapy was found to significantly reduce development of end-stage of kidney disease (ESKD) (RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.25 to 1.00; P = 0.05); lowered serum creatinine levels (MD 1.10 mg/dL, 95% CI 0.39 to 1.81; P = 0.003); and improved creatinine clearance (MD 14.53 mL/min, 95% CI 1.20 to 27.86; P = 0.03). Serious adverse events were not significantly increased by antioxidants (RR 2.26, 95% CI 0.74 to 6.95; P = 0.15).

Risk of bias was assessed for all studies. Studies that were classified as unclear for random sequence generation or allocation concealment reported significant benefits from antioxidant therapy (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.41 to 0.80; P = 0.001) compared with studies at low risk of bias (RR 1.06, 95% CI 0.84 to 1.32; P = 0.63).