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The Facts About Antioxidant Supplements

Antioxidants are health-promoting molecules found naturally in fruits and vegetables. They are also available in antioxidant supplements. An examination of these supplements will answer the question, can you get the same health benefits in a pill as you do from eating antioxidants in food?

What is an Antioxidant?

An antioxidant is a molecule that keeps other molecules from oxidizing. When cells inside your body oxidize, they begin to break down. It is the same principle as rust, where oxygen causes a corrosion that wears away surfaces. In your body, this wearing away produces free radicals, which attack your healthy cells. The end result is a weakened immune system and faster aging. Cellular oxidation has also been linked to a variety of diseases such as cataracts, cancer and heart disease.

Antioxidants bind together the dangerous free radicals and help to lessen their effect. There is also evidence then can undo some of the damage these harmful molecules have caused. The question is, can you get these results from a pill?

Not FDA Approved

The American Heart Association and doctors associated with the Mayo Clinic concur that antioxidant supplements do not increase health, and in fact may harm those who take them. The supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and therefore are not subject to rigorous safety and effectiveness tests. When they are taken, says the American Heart Association, studies revealed that the body does not appear to absorb antioxidants in supplemental form as well as it does in food. So even if they aren’t harming you, which they may be, they aren’t helping much, either. 

Can Be Dangerous to Health

In recent years, many studies have examined the effects of antioxidant supplements on human health. A recent article pooled the results of 67 studies following over 232,000 people. 46 of the studies focused on people who were already sick with diseases and disorders that antioxidants have been reported to aid, such as cancer and heart disease. The remaining studies focused on what happens when healthy people ingest antioxidant supplements.

In all cases, consuming the antioxidant supplements beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E increased the subject’s chances of death, even if they had no pre-existing health concerns. There were no notable health benefits to the supplements and they were in fact, dangerous.

Eat Your Antioxidants

There is evidence that people who eat a diet high in the types of foods that contain natural antioxidants, mainly fruits and vegetables, do have less health problems and less incidence of disease. The best way to get antioxidants and the health benefits they provide is by eating them in the form of healthy natural foods. These foods often have a strong dark color, and include:

  • berries
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • carrots
  • soy

Though the subject is still controversial, most evidence points to a complete lack of benefit in antioxidant supplements. If there is a benefit to be had in antioxidants, it is far better to get them through your diet, and the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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