What’s the Big Deal About Anti-Oxidants?
Lots of nutritionists and health experts extol the virtues of including foods rich in anti-oxidant power. For some people, anti-oxidant supplements are just what the doctor ordered because tests or symptoms have shown these patients to be deficient in anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals. Anti-oxidants have been shown to prevent or repair damage to the body's cells. They may also be important in improving the immune system and lowering the risks of infection and even cancer. So let's talk about what anti-oxidants are and are not.
First, we have to talk about free-radicals – the nasty byproducts that are created when our body breaks down food into energy. In addition to breaking off during the food-to-energy process, free radicals can also come from cigarette smoke or other environmental factors like radiation. Free radicals roam around the body looking for electrons to steal from other cells. As they gobble up electrons, the victim cells are damaged and even their DNA material may be altered. Here's where anti-oxidants come to the rescue.
Anti-oxidants act like electron donors to these hungry free radicals preventing them from stealing electrons from healthy cells. Your body makes a bunch of anti-oxidants on its own. But they also come from foods and supplement rich in nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E; selenium; beta carotene; glutathione; coenzyme Q10; lipoic acid; flavonoids; phenols; polyphenols; and phytoestrogens.
People have been buzzing about the benefits of anti-oxidants since the 1990's, giving scientists some time to test the theory behind the hype. The results of several clinical trials are mixed. While some studies showed significant improvements in the rates of some forms of cancer, others showed an increase in certain cancer rates among specific populations (heavy smokers and people exposed to high levels of asbestos) when given a supplement with a single form of anti-oxidant.
In the end we know that our bodies need anti-oxidants to fight the effects of free radicals. It is best to get anti-oxidants in a variety of forms by eating nutritious, anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you would benefit from an anti-oxidant boost.