Damage from Free Radicals
The cells in your body perform functions necessary for life: converting food into usable energy, tissue growth and repair, fighting infections, and many other critical tasks. Cells sustain damage from foreign materials like pathogens and toxins. Free radicals—molecules created as a byproduct of cell functions—also damage cells. Other sources of free radicals include pollution, smoking, and UV radiation from sun exposure. Too many free radicals in the body can cause a condition called oxidative stress, which can result in the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and vision loss.
Antioxidants in Action
Antioxidants provide a line of defense to ward off the damaging effects of free radicals. They react with free radical molecules to cancel out the negative effects. The body produces antioxidants to prevent cell damage. Antioxidants also come from foods and in supplement form. Some nutrients with antioxidant properties include vitamins C and E; carotenoids such as beta carotene, lycopene, and lutein; the minerals selenium and zinc; and plant chemicals called polyphenols.
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, and broccoli. Avocados and almonds provide vitamin E. Highly pigmented fruits and vegetables in shades of orange, red, purple, and dark green contain greater amounts of antioxidant-rich molecules like beta carotene and lycopene. Antioxidant minerals come from shellfish, legumes, and poultry. Tea, cocoa solids, onions, and grapes contain polyphenol compounds.
Antioxidant supplements can help to fill in the gaps when diet falls short of providing the necessary vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds needed to combat the actions of free radicals in the body. Supplements are not a substitute for good nutrition, but natural supplements can be a good source of antioxidants, especially when combined with a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables. An antioxidant is more effective when combined with other nutrients and plant compounds, rather than consumed on its own.
Antioxidant supplements can be an effective tool for boosting the body's disease-fighting powers when combined with a healthful diet. However, high doses of antioxidants have not been shown to confer greater benefits. In fact, high doses of some antioxidants can have negative effects. Consult with the recommended daily allowance for vitamins, minerals, and other substances. Speak with a health care provider about supplementing your antioxidant intake to ensure you are taking the proper dosage and avoiding any possible drug interactions with your supplements.