Are Antioxidants Really Good For Our Health?

Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against free radicals, which may play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
Are Antioxidants Really Good For Our Health?
Antioxidants and the effect of free radicals are explained in simple terms. Image/Shutterstock

Antioxidants” is a very common buzzword these days, and is associated with good health. Antioxidants are not well understood, though, by most people, nor do they have an idea of how antioxidants function. The word itself is not clearly defined in the scientific literature resulting in confusion regarding antioxidants.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are typically described as compounds that can reduce the amount of cellular damage caused by free radicals. These free radicals have one or more than one unpaired electron in their outer orbit. This makes them highly reactive. They are produced by the body through its normal metabolic processes like the production of energy. Environmental or lifestyle factors also contribute to the formation of free radicals. These factors include exposure to the sun, smoking and drinking, and more.

Antioxidants have the property of reducing the rate of oxidation, the process through which free radicals are formed. These benevolent chemicals neutralize free radicals before they can cause damage to proteins, lipids, or DNA. You can consume many natural food items rich in antioxidants to reduce the damage from free radicals, or you can also opt for supplements rich in antioxidants like Morning Complete.

Here we need to consider that free radicals are naturally produced in the body, and as it is, they are not detrimental to health at moderate levels. But the phenomenon called oxidative stress occurs if the amount of free radicals in the body is too high. This can be a foundation for diseases ranging from several chronic ailments like diabetes and hypertension to heart disease or cancer.

What is the defense system of antioxidants?

Our body is a very complex machine that does many functions at once to keep us healthy and alive. The antioxidant defense systems keep the free radical production under check. As an example, some cells contain antioxidant enzymes that are essential to reduce free radicals. There are many antioxidant enzymes, out of which the primary ones are superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), and glutathione reductase (GRx). These are the first line of defense for our body as far as antioxidants are concerned, and they help not only in neutralizing the free radicals but also any other molecules that may have the potential of becoming free radicals.

Our body has the unique ability to produce some antioxidants through metabolic processes as well. These include lipoic acid, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, melatonin, uric acid, L-arginine, metal-chelating proteins, bilirubin, and transferrin. Yet, the body is limited in producing a few antioxidants that may only be consumed externally via food or dietary supplements. These are carotenoids, antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins C and E, selenium, manganese, zinc, flavonoids, and omega-3 and omega-6 fats. In the healthcare industry, dietary sources and supplemental antioxidants enjoy special attention. These can help bolster the antioxidant defenses of the body.

Sources of Antioxidants from outside, Food versus Dietary Supplements

No wonder that this has become a multi-million dollar segment in the healthcare industry. The lifestyle of people in the last few decades has become extremely fast. We live in a world where pollution is ever-increasing, food habits have changed from healthy to whatever we can get fast. Natural and healthy food are being ditched for fried fast food. Cola and energy drinks are being preferred over water and fruit juices.

In short, the world is heading towards a health crisis of enormous magnitude. Some people started taking note of this phenomenon and pitched in with health products that promised to help people stay healthier. Organic food, nuts, berries, fruits, and so much more are available in the market that helps in boosting the antioxidant levels in our body. Supplements have helped in increasing the source of antioxidants even further.

The important thing is to understand the intricacies of antioxidants and achieve a perfect balance of dietary intake and supplemental intake. For example, many fruits like apples, pears, berries, etc., contain certain antioxidant chemicals known as polyphenol antioxidants. There are brightly colored fruits, and vegetables that have another class of antioxidants called the carotenoids. These are all naturally occurring antioxidants. These differ a lot from the ones that are present in supplements. Let us consider, for example, the case of Vitamin E. There are many types of Vitamin E that include synthetic Vitamin E and naturally occurring Vitamin E like alpha-tocopherol esters. The effect of the different types of Vitamin E is different on the body. This may be why various researches have produced quite different results concerning the potential health benefits of Vitamin E. Dietary supplements also contain a much higher concentration of the concerned antioxidants when we compare it with the naturally occurring food sources.

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Is it safe to consume any amount of antioxidants?

It is proven through many pieces of research that a diet rich in antioxidants can be beneficial for health. Natural sources like nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seafood, all contribute to an antioxidant-rich diet.

The key to gaining maximum benefits is moderation. If you start loading your body with a particular supplement, hoping that the more you supply, the better it will be, you are actually taking up the risk with the system of your body. High doses of certain antioxidants have been proven to be harmful to specific populations. For example, the excessive use of Vitamin E in men has increased the risk of developing prostate gland cancer. Again, excessive levels of beta carotene are held responsible for increasing the risk of lung cancer among smokers.

In other words, high doses of antioxidants can be detrimental to health. This may increase the chances of contracting some particular diseases.

Final words

We have gone through the topic of antioxidants, their benefits, and their risks. After a thorough understanding of the matter, we can infer that antioxidants are essential for better health. They are good for our health, especially when we include them as a part of our diet. However, for the best results, we must consult with a doctor and determine the correct dosage.

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Diana Young, LD/N, ORDM, GC-C

Diana Young is a Licensed Dietitian, Certified Grief Counselor and Health Coach. Her expertise includes fitness, weight management and

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