Understanding Antioxidants

Understanding Antioxidants

In the 1990s, medical professionals first began to discuss the potential health benefits of antioxidants. It wasn’t long before eating foods high in antioxidants became a popular health-food trend. Now, it is commonplace for food manufacturers to boast about the antioxidant content of their products. Recent studies, however, suggest that antioxidants may not be the all-powerful nutrients that we believe them to be. 

Are the claims surrounding the importance and potential health benefits of antioxidants really just hype? In this article, we take a closer look at the research around antioxidants and discuss their actual nutritional value.  

The Claims

Doctors and nutritionists list a whole spectrum of potential benefits connected to antioxidants. Expectations are certainly high for antioxidants, with these potential benefits including prevention of ailments, from heart disease to cancer.

Cancer Prevention

As you can imagine, there have only been a small handful of trials that have gone on long enough to provide useful data on the topic of antioxidants preventing cancer. The studies that have taken place show that the antioxidants they looked at have little, if any, effect. Results from trials like HOPE and SU.VI.MAX only supported antioxidants being effective cancer preventers when the subject went into the trial with a deficiency of that chemical. For example, in a random trial of the antioxidant selenium in people with skin cancer, the only subjects who showed slowed or arrested growth rates after the addition of the antioxidant were those who began the trial without adequate levels of it.

Heart Disease Management and Prevention

The story is almost the same for preventing heart disease and stroke. Though many trials have been done, none show conclusive data for the effectiveness of any antioxidant as an agent of heart health. For example, in a study by Women’s Health, almost 40,000 women were given bi-daily doses of either the antioxidant Vitamin E or a placebo. At the end of the trial, the rate of heart problems for women on the placebo did not vary from that of the women on the antioxidant regimen.


Antioxidant Redeeming Qualities

The idea behind antioxidants is logical enough. Diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s to vision loss are all caused by “free radicals.” Antioxidants are chemicals that inhibit the functioning of these free radicals, so, in theory, the more antioxidants the better. But what studies have been done in this field have been inconclusive at best. Preliminary trial results show that an artificial increase in antioxidants does not actually prevent or reduce risk for these conditions. There is one exception, however. Beta-carotene and other antioxidants naturally occurring in things like whole fruits, vegetables, and grains show promising signs of being able to retard the effects of aging and provide protection against conditions such as certain types of vision loss. Like you were always told as a child growing up: “Eat your carrots…they help your eyes!”


CATEGORIES: Alternative Health, Healthy Foods, Heart Health, Vitamins & Minerals