Antioxidant supplements have been a buzzword in the world of medicine and health care for a long time. The popular belief of general people is that antioxidant supplements are very beneficial to health. But a lot of clinical studies show a little different opinion from the widespread belief. Many research scientists found that it’s better to take antioxidants naturally rather than take individual chemical compounds as supplements.
As the number of people who take antioxidants as a form of supplement rises day by day, most people don’t know the actual science behind it. Here’s something that will help you understand how to weigh the benefits of dietary antioxidant supplements yourself.
Knowing the antioxidants
To understand all this, first, you need to know about antioxidants and free radicals. Antioxidants are the compound that inhibits the oxidation caused by ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and other free radicals. Free radicals are such compounds; if they are very high in level, they can damage cells and genetic materials.
Free radicals are inevitably produced when turning food into energy. These also form after exercise, exposure to sunlight, air pollution, or cigarette smoke. Chronic amounts of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which leads to chronic diseases.
But we are not defenseless against free radicals. Our body produces such molecules that destroy free radicals as water quenches fire. These molecules, called ‘Antioxidants,’ can also be extracted by our body from food. The most common antioxidants are Vitamin-C, Vitamin-E, Beta-carotene, and other carotenoids, minerals like Selenium and Manganese. They work with coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, phenols, phytoestrogen glutathione, and many other components.
Taking antioxidants in supplements and their benefits
Harvard School of Public Health states in a publication that, in 1990, antioxidants came to public attention when scientific studies discovered free radicals are involved in early stages of artery-clogging atherosclerosis. Scientists also understood that it was linked to vision loss, cancer, and other chronic conditions. Some studies showed that people who don’t take antioxidants-rich fruits and vegetables are more vulnerable than people who ate plenty of those fruits and vegetables.
So this disease-fighting property of antioxidants makes them beneficial. As they curtail the number of free radicals in the body; Medicine Companies started making single substances in supplement form (as capsules or tablets), especially Beta-carotene and Vitamin-E, to fight against chronic diseases.
Doctors prescribed these dietary antioxidant supplements in proper doses to people who don’t take these antioxidants-rich foods sufficiently and who show symptoms of oxidative stress.
Facts that contradict the general belief of dietary antioxidant supplements:
In recent reviews, several misconceptions about antioxidants and free radicals are discussed. There are some reasons why antioxidants that are taken in forms of supplements may not bring benefits to health.
The main beneficial property of antioxidants is they reduce the excess amount of free radicals. But the role of free radicals is not fully discovered yet. Human physiology conferred some beneficial actions of free radicals. The human body naturally has a well-balanced pool of antioxidants and free radicals that eradicates physiological oxidative damage of free radicals, while allowing some free radicals to perform the useful functions.
ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) plays a vital role in the human immune system by killing pathogens. Phagocytes or White blood cells use ROS to kill infectious microorganisms (Halliwell2011, Imlay 2008). Though excess free radicals may impair stem cell function, some free radicals are needed by them to function appropriately (juntilla et el. 2010). Antioxidant defense systems minimize the levels of most harmful ROS but still allow the presence of sufficient ROS for their essential purposes like cell signaling and redox regulation. Cells can tolerate mild oxidative stress, and this stress helps cells to regulate the repair process and other protective systems.
Exercises are undoubtedly beneficial to health because it is the mild pro-oxidant (because free radicals are created in the body after exercising) that stimulates beneficial adaptation in skeletal muscles (Jackson 2011).
All these studies suggest that mild pro-oxidants (components that induce oxidative stress) play a positive role in the human body rather than taking large amounts of antioxidants (Bast & Haenen 2013)
Choosing dietary antioxidant supplements or choosing other natural sources of antioxidants
The National Library of Medicine says that the doses administered for dietary antioxidants often exceed Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) when taken as supplements. So lower doses or combined uses of antioxidants are better than higher doses of single agents.
Consumption of foods rich in vitamin-c shown to decrease oxidative damage where the intake of vitamin-c alone as a supplement doesn’t. Isolating a specific compound to imitate the benefit of whole food may not be beneficial. A cup of fresh strawberries contains 80mg of vitamin-c, which is classified as having a high antioxidant property. However, a supplement contains 500mg of vitamin-C (667%of RDA), which does not have plant chemicals like proanthocyanins and flavonoids, which also have antioxidant properties and might team up with vitamin-c to fight disease. More importantly, plant fruits and vegetables are functional as they provide flavor, nutrients, and bioactive, and they are low in calories.
Antioxidant supplements may help to balance the high oxidative stress level, which endogenous antioxidant defense systems couldn’t control. But the balance between free radicals and antioxidants should be optimal. So that’s why determining individuals’ oxidative stress level is crucial before prescribing dietary supplements.
As discussed above, studies now discourage taking Dietary antioxidant supplements. Scientists also suggest eating whole fruits, grains, vegetables, which contain a natural chain of antioxidants and their helper molecule will protect you against many scourges of aging.