“Antioxidant” is a word you see thrown around all the time amongst food products and advertisements. What the heck are they and should you be concerned with them?
To understand antioxidants, you first have to understand free radicals. Free radicals are part of a larger group known as Reactive Oxygen Species. We all know Oxygen is imperative to life, but it has a dark side as well. Free radicals are variations of Oxygen, existing as short-lived, unstable atoms that lack their own electrons (a critical piece of the puzzle) within our bodies. To compensate, these shady guys rob electrons from healthy molecules [a process known as oxidation]. These free-radicals can start chain reactions that, when inside the cell, can lead to cell damage or death!
What Increases Oxidation?
Vigorous Exercise (ahh!), Alcohol, medications, infections, poor diet, toxins, radiation, exposure to pollutants (cigarette smoke)
Should I be worried about Oxidative damage?
Researchers widely believe damage to cells caused by free radicals is a large contributor to the aging process, as well as disease progression. It has been linked to at least 50 diseases! Some of these include cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, immune system decline, and brain dysfunction. Direct link to cause of these diseases has not been proven, but there does seem to be a correlation.
Here’s what really pains me: healthy, fit people (who possess a rich supply of HEALTHY cells and are constantly undergoing cellular metabolism) are thus more prone to oxidation! The more healthy molecules you have, the greater chance they’ll be stolen from by free-radicals.
How to Protect Against Oxidants: Antioxidants
Normally, endogenous antioxidants (naturally produced within our body) help prevent the aforementioned process in our bodies. When they’re deficient however, free radicals can reign supreme. So it only makes sense that you’d want to heighten the amount of antioxidants circulating in your system in order to prevent an imbalance in this arena, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free-radicals.
The three major players in the antioxidant game are:
Vitamin C, Vitamin E , and Beta-Carotene
How to Boost your Antioxidant Amount
Historically, many sources recommended supplementing your diet with antioxidants via vitamins in order to fight this process. There can’t be anything wrong with taking excess Vitamin C, and Vitamin E, right? Wrong.
Recent articles claim supplementing with antioxidants isn’t necessarily a good thing, as it has actually been linked to mortality in some cases. What?! *Runs to vitamin cabinet and throws away Vitamin E bottle*
The jury is unfortunately still out. Much like the rest of the supplement and health industry! What can we do, except try to remain as informed as possible.
Call to Action
The current “consensus” is more of a debate rather than a firm recommendation. It seems the most conservative approach is to make sure you’re getting an adequate level of antioxidants through your diet to fight against free radical activity (which we do know is a problem), without going overboard. I dare you to try to research this topic and come to one conclusive recommendation; it’s not going to happen because researchers aren’t even clear if overuse of certain antioxidants can actually cause harm (some risk has been demonstrated with Beta Carotone and Vitamin E, for example).
Knowing this, it seems the best approach is not to go supplement crazy and stick to that balanced diet your parents recommended ages ago. Vitamin C and E have benefits aside from its supposed antioxidant properties, so it would still behoove you to strive to receive adequate amounts through your diet, or perhaps a multivitamin if your diet is deficient in these areas. In general, I would recommend a multivitamin to “cover your bases” across a variety of vitamins.
As you may imagine, there’s a plethora of nutritional options that contain antioxidants. A couple of my favorites include:
Dark green veggies
Fruits [berries of all types]
Herbs and spices [oregano, turmeric, ginger, garlic]
Whey protein! [contains valuable amino acids that help increase glutathione production, a natural antioxidant]
Dying for an Antioxidant Supplement, Still?
Alpha Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant the body naturally synthesizes. It exists as an over the counter fatty acid you can purchase, which has shown promise in promoting antioxidant levels in the body. No ADVERSE effects have been recorded at this time, so it’s on the safe side to consume as a supplement if you would like. It has also shown promise in reducing blood glucose levels, along with a host of other benefits! Personally, I take 250 mg a day as a supplement. Examine.com recommends a standard dose of 300-600 mg, so perhaps I should consider raising this. You can purchase at the link to the right:
What are your favorite dietary sources of antioxidants? Let us know below!