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Antioxidant Supplements: How Useful Are They?

It appears that antioxidants can play a role in making our lives healthier. In case you haven’t read my previous article on the subject, head over there for a quick primer on Antioxidants. The question that arises in my mind, is how much priority should I give antioxidants in my diet? After all, we have busy lives and will antioxidants really make a difference to our lives and those of our loved ones?

Please scroll down to continue reading.

The antioxidant presence in our bodies can be altered through diet, based on the following criteria:​1​

  1. The antioxidant content of the food
  2. The amount of the food consumed
  3. The type of phytochemicals and the content of each
  4. The body’s absorption / metabolism of the antioxidants
  5. Higher fructose content in the case of some fruits and berries caused higher antioxidant levels in the body

As per this article on Harvard Health Publishing, phytochemicals are substances in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes) that contribute to their color, taste, and smell.

A note of caution: Antioxidants aren’t a solution for the blanket prevention of disease.

As per the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, while there are some specific antioxidants that work in specific areas of our body in specific ways, others have not been found to be beneficial, for instance, a Women’s Health Study (~ 40,000 healthy women at least 45 years of age), found that vitamin E supplements did not reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, age-related macular degeneration, or cataracts.

In contrast, the Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that a combination of antioxidants (vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene) plus zinc reduced the risk of developing the advanced stage of age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent in people who had the intermediate stage of this disease or who had the advanced stage in only one eye. High doses of some antioxidants can actually increase the risk of some health conditions, including cancer.

So where do we get our dose of antioxidants from? My suggestion that we increase the quantity and variety of plant based foods in our diets, given overdoses of antioxidants, usually via supplements, are associated with undesirable outcomes. So, eat healthier, avoid supplements.

How do we eat healthier from an antioxidant point of view? Which foods should we be including in our diets? I’ll answer these questions in my next article in this series.

References

  1. 1.
    Prior RL, Gu L, Wu X, et al. Plasma Antioxidant Capacity Changes Following a Meal as a Measure of the Ability of a Food to AlterIn VivoAntioxidant Status. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Published online April 2007:170-181. doi:10.1080/07315724.2007.10719599

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