There is a great deal of discussion around antioxidants and the benefits they offer. The following research explains the role they play and the benefits they confer.
WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS
As stated in Antioxidants & Your Immune System, Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of different substances that can act as antioxidants. The most familiar ones are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and other related carotenoids, along with the minerals selenium and manganese. – The Harvard School of Public Health
WHAT ARE FREE RADICALS
The body generates free radicals as the inevitable byproducts of turning food into energy. Others are in the food you eat and the air you breathe. Some are generated by sunlight’s action on the skin and eyes.
Free radicals come in many shapes, sizes, and chemical configurations. What they all share is a voracious appetite for electrons, stealing them from any nearby substances that will yield them. This electron theft can radically alter the “loser’s” structure or function. Free radical damage can change the instructions coded in a strand of DNA. It can make a circulating low-density lipoprotein (LDL, sometimes called bad cholesterol) molecule more likely to get trapped in an artery wall. Or it can alter a cell’s membrane, changing the flow of what enters the cell and what leaves it.
THE ROLE ANTIOXIDANTS PLAYAs stated in The American Journal of Clincal Nutrition, Antioxidant defenses in the cell can temper the negative influence of free radicals and associated reactions and keep them in check. Vitamin E is the major lipid-soluble antioxidant in cell membranes. It protects against lipid peroxidation by acting directly with a variety of oxygen radicals, including singlet oxygen, lipid peroxide products, and the superoxide radical, to form a relatively innocuous tocopherol radical. Vitamin C can interact with the tocopherol radical to regenerate reduced tocopherol. Vitamin C is water soluble and can directly react with superoxide, hydroxyl radicals, and singlet oxygen. Beta-carotene, the major carotenoid precursor of vitamin A, is the most efficient “quencher” of singlet oxygen.
ANTIOXIDANTS AND IMMUNE SUPPORT
As stated in Russ’s article on antioxidants:
- Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies. It also increases interferon, which basically coats your cell surfaces, preventing the entry of viruses.
- Vitamin E boosts your immune system by increasing the production of natural killer cells- important for destroying germs AND cancer cells. It also increases B cells, which are responsible for making antibodies to fight specific germs. Supplementing with vitamin E has been shown in many studies to reverse some of the decline in immune response that is seen in aging.
- Carotenoids (The most famous being B-carotene, but there are many others.) These increase production of natural killer cells and helper T-cells.
- Bioflavonoids (There are lots of these, especially in fruits & veggies) Your cells have receptor sites, which are like parking spaces that allow germs and other toxins into the cell. Bioflavonoids take up these “parking spaces” so the germs won’t have access to your cell.
ANTIOXIDANTS AND SKIN CARE
When it comes to caring for your skin, antioxidants can help to protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun. Unlike sunscreens and moisturizers, antioxidants can protect your skin from the inside out by guarding your cells from damage. Vitamins A, C and E and the mineral selenium are thought to be particularly helpful in skin care. In addition to helping fortify cells against free radicals, vitamins A and C also encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the body to repair itself. This is very helpful to the skin, which is constantly shedding and regrowing cells. For this reason, any antioxidants that protect cells and encourage cell growth could be helpful in an anti-aging regimen, as they may help fight fine lines and wrinkles. – Sarah Rutland
ANTIOXIDANT SUPPLEMENTSAccording to National Center for complementary and alternative Medicine, Most clinical studies of antioxidant supplements have not found them to provide substantial health benefits. Researchers have suggested several reasons for this, including the following:
- The beneficial health effects of a diet high in vegetables and fruits or other antioxidant-rich foods may actually be caused by other substances present in the same foods, other dietary factors, or other lifestyle choices rather than antioxidants.
- The effects of the large doses of antioxidants used in supplementation studies may be different from those of the smaller amounts of antioxidants consumed in foods.
- Differences in the chemical composition of antioxidants in foods versus those in supplements may influence their effects. For example, eight chemical forms of vitamin E are present in foods. Vitamin E supplements, on the other hand, typically include only one of these forms—alpha-tocopherol. Alpha-tocopherol also has been used in almost all research studies on vitamin E.
- For some diseases, specific antioxidants might be more effective than the ones that have been tested. For example, to prevent eye diseases, antioxidants that are present in the eye, such as lutein, might be more beneficial than those that are not found in the eye, such as beta-carotene.
- The relationship between free radicals and health may be more complex than has previously been thought. Under some circumstances, free radicals actually may be beneficial rather than harmful, and removing them may be undesirable.
- The antioxidant supplements may not have been given for a long enough time to prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases or cancer, which develop over decades.
- The participants in the clinical trials discussed above were either members of the general population or people who were at high risk for particular diseases. They were not necessarily under increased oxidative stress. Antioxidants might help to prevent diseases in people who are under increased oxidative stress even if they don’t prevent them in other people.
Our research concludes that antioxidants play a major role in overall health. They can help with maintaining a healthy immune system as well as healthy skin.
Many studies have also concluded that it is better to get antioxidant from whole foods and not supplements. In many cases, antioxidant supplements have not been proven effective.