The categories of antioxidants are aplenty: vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, curcumins, catechins, tannins, carotenoids, terpenes and alkaloids, among other several types of antioxidants. Some of the commonly consumed antioxidants are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Free radicals are unstable molecules produced when the body burns food for energy and during exercise. Exposure to pollution, cigarette smoke and UV light can also trigger the generation of free radicals. On a cellular level, free radicals take away electrons from atoms, altering the functioning of the cells. This process leads to cell damage called oxidative stress.
Antioxidants beat oxidative stress, which is caused from the exposure to free radicals that can damage the cells. Oxidative stress can lead to several diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Vegetables and fruits are full of antioxidants that can help prevent cellular damage. The body has the capacity to make antioxidants as well.
However, studies that confirmed the benefits of eating a diet rich in antioxidants say it was due to other lifestyle factors and dietary choices. Researchers cannot prove that antioxidants alone are responsible for decreasing disease risk.
Supplementing antioxidants in huge doses is not the same as consuming small doses of antioxidants through food. The added effect of the other nutrients apart from antioxidants could also contribute to reducing disease risk. Studies have shown that antioxidant supplements do not improve health at all.
The Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study studied disease risk in around 8,000 female medical personnel who were 40 years and above. These women who were at a high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases were given vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements, but they showed no major health benefits. For older women aged 65 and above, supplements did not improve cognitive function as well.
The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT) included about 35,000 men older than 50, who were given selenium and vitamin E supplements. Supplements did not lower risk of prostate cancer. In fact, consumption of vitamin E supplements alone increased risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent.
One of the main reasons why vitamin E in food aids good health is because there are eight chemical forms, whereas alpha-tocopherol is the only supplement form of vitamin E.