A few years back the hip fitness term to use was “antioxidant.” Everywhere you turned a food was taunting it’s level of antioxidants while celebrity doctors were telling you just how important it was to consume antioxidants.
And yet why in the world hadn’t we really heard of this thing before?
Well, antioxidants are nothing new and it wasn’t some invention of the late 90s to try and sell acai supplements. But once you strip away all the sales pitch phrases like “superfoods” what exactly is an antioxidant and should you be purchasing antioxidant supplements for your diet?
Well, we have all the answers for you right here.
Antioxidant Supplements Health Benefits
What Are Antioxidants?
To understand what antioxidants are you first need to understand what free radicals are. Free radicals small elements that can enter the body and cause all kinds of harm. As the name suggests, these are radical compounds of cells that might target healthy areas of the body and lead to all kinds of health issues. Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are three of the more common (and more deadly) health problems that are connected to free radicals.
Free radicals don’t simply slip through the cracks of your body and try to infiltrate. Your body actually is in part responsible for the formation of the free radicals.
Antioxidants are molecules that will target these free radicals and destroy them.
Essentially, it is a defensive system in place to protect your body against cancer and heart disease. So, if you weren’t sure why someone would want to increase their antioxidant supplements you do now.
But the thing is, while free radicals may sound bad, they do have a purpose. Free radicals are used by your body’s immune system to fight off infections. So yea, this can get a little confusing.
Basically you need to have a balance of free radicals and antioxidants. There need to be enough free radicals that make it past the antioxidants to help with your body’s immune system, and yet you need antioxidants to help prevent your body from overdoing it on the free radicals.
What Happens When There Are Too Many Free Radicals?
Should your body’s free radicals go unchecked you will eventually have more of the free radicals in your system than antioxidants? Should this happen it results in something known as oxidative stress. Over time, this stress will damage your DNA, which will then increase your chance of developing cancer. The prolonged stress may also begin killing off cells within your body.
So, while it is important for your body to maintain some free radicals, you need enough antioxidants coming in to keep this number in check.
How Do Free Radicals Develop?
Free radicals develop in a number of ways. Many of these ways are due to unhealthy habits you introduce to your body. Cigarette smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and even an excess of antioxidants.
Yes, taking too many antioxidants can cause problems, including the increase in free radical production. And yet, at the same time, having a deficiency in antioxidants can potentially lead to the same problem. It very much is a fine line of consuming enough antioxidants while avoiding overconsumption.
Other causes of free radicals include infections (viral, bacterial, or fungal), high blood sugar levels, and even external toxins from air pollution. Even prolonged exercise that leads to tissue damage may increase the chance of developing free radicals. Now, this doesn’t mean you should stop working out. It just means you need to give every area of your body ample time to recover following a workout.
Foods That Contain Antioxidants
Antioxidants can be found in all kinds of foods, and while, yes, there are “superfoods” that are packed with more antioxidants per gram than other foods, it isn’t all that difficult to track down food bursting with antioxidants.
For starters, basically anything with Vitamin C or E will have healthy levels of antioxidants. Most fruits, including oranges, strawberries, raspberries, and grapefruit are loaded with antioxidants (really any kind of berry is going to be one of the best options for you). In terms of veggies with antioxidants, you’ll want to turn your sights onto dark, leafy greens. This is a good sign of high antioxidant content.
However, antioxidants are not only found in fruits and veggies. You will also find healthy levels are found in coffee and green tea. Coffee actually delivers more antioxidants to humans throughout the United States than any other food (which makes sense when it comes to how many cups of coffee people drink around the country).
Meats do have some antioxidants (specifically fish, but to a lesser extent land-based animals), although the antioxidants you find in meat are greatly reduced when compared to what you’ll find in fruits and veggies.
The Makeup Of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are made up of several different elements within the compound. These can be broken down into three groups: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and flavonoids.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is water-soluble and is critical for most dietary nutrition requirements as well as production of collagen, while on the other hand, Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant.
This particular antioxidant will help protect and support the cellular membrane and help block out oxidative damages from occurring within your body. Lastly, there are flavonoids. This is a kind of antioxidant that is specifically unique to plants (Journal of Nutrition, 2010).
Most of the time it is better for you to consume foods without cooking or frying the foods with antioxidants. This will ensure you receive the full bounty of nutrients.
So Should You Take Antioxidant Supplements?
There is no general right or wrong answer to this. It is a case by case basis for determining whether you need to take a supplement or not.
As you’ve discovered by reading through all the different foods that contain antioxidants it isn’t all that difficult to get enough of them. Additionally, if you consume too many antioxidants you will develop what is known as an oxidative paradox. Instead of having too few (oxidative damage), you have too many antioxidants, which in many ways can be too much of a good thing and lead to major health complications.
Think of antioxidants as the wine of the health world. You can take in a little bit every day and it will help boost your health. But if you regularly binge on it you’ll end up with serious health complications.
Because it is so easy to find foods that are high in antioxidants (many of which don’t cost much money) you shouldn’t have a problem with consuming enough antioxidants throughout the course of your day.
Now, with that said, there are exceptions to the rule. Perhaps you have serious health food allergies. Maybe the natural acidity in fruits causes problems with your stomach and maybe there are fiber problems with the leafy greens. If you cut these two food areas out of your diet you will now find yourself without any of the major ways of bringing in antioxidants. In these instances, an antioxidant supplement might be right for you (Nutritional Journal.)
The best way to determine whether antioxidants are right for you is to consult with your primary healthcare provider.
You will need to go over your current diet. When asked, make sure to go into specific detail about any other supplements and vitamins you’re taking. If you’re already taking your daily amount of vitamin C and E than you’ll more than likely be fine.
Of course, if you decide to opt into the world of supplementation for antioxidants you’ll want to make sure and hit the gym on a regular basis. You need to regularly flush your system with water. This will help keep your body moving and allow the antioxidants the ability to remain active and to target other cells that might be at risk.
If your primary healthcare provider fails to identify what is causing this discomfort. While antioxidants are now worn out you will need to find a way to sneak you inside of the house when I arrive on campus.
So, before you drop everything because you saw an online celebrity hawking certain products but never trying it on camera, you will want to discuss everything prior to starting any kind of antioxidant companion. By knowing for sure what is going on with your antioxidant and if it would be better to visit the house of the late, great, actor.
As long as you listen and take their guidance you won’t have any problems locating a healthcare provider who can guide you into what kinds of supplements you need to be taken beyond what you should avoid (British Journal of Nutrition) 2010.
Antioxidants are essential to living a healthy life.
However, they are also not difficult to find in regular foods. If you regularly eat fresh fruits and berries you’ll probably already be getting your necessary amount of antioxidants (and then some).
In these instances, you likely do not need to add a supplement to your diet.
However, there is a time and a place for antioxidant supplements. If you do not regularly eat the amount of fresh fruit and veggies throughout the day you may want to consider such a supplement. This should be in addition to other supplements, such as a multi-vitamin you’re taking.
Additionally, if your doctor recommends you bolster your antioxidant intake you can quickly do so with a supplement. Sometimes the “superfood” fruits and veggies can be expensive to try and consume every single day. If you find yourself in this situation you will want to consider antioxidant supplements as well.
Ultimately everyone is a little different and your personal dietary requirements will be different from others. Thankfully, if you are short on antioxidants you will not have a problem finding these helpful supplements at your local grocery store.