We hear very often about the importance of antioxidants and the role they play in improving our health so I thought I would check the great Wikipedia and US government research sites to see if I could find some good info on the role that antioxidants play in good health and how to get them.
Antioxidants are present in foods as vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and polyphenols, among others. Many antioxidants are often identified in food by their distinctive colors—the deep red of cherries and of tomatoes; the orange of carrots; the yellow of corn, mangos, and saffron; and the blue-purple of blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. The most well-known components of food with antioxidant activities are vitamins A, C, and E; ß-carotene; the mineral selenium; and more recently, the compound lycopene.
The research continues to grow regarding the knowledge of antioxidants as healthful components of food. Oxidation, or the loss of an electron, can sometimes produce reactive substances known as free radicals that can cause oxidative stress or damage to the cells. Antioxidants, by their very nature, are capable of stabilizing free radicals before they can react and cause harm, in much the same way that a buffer stabilizes an acid to maintain a normal pH. Because oxidation is a naturally occurring process within the body, a balance with antioxidants must exist to maintain health.
Why do you need antioxidants?
While the body has its defenses against oxidative stress, these defenses are thought to become less effective with aging as oxidative stress becomes greater. Research suggests there is involvement of the resulting free radicals in a number of diseases associated with aging, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, immune dysfunction, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Certain conditions, such as chronic diseases and aging, can tip the balance in favor of free radical formation, which can contribute to ill effects on health. This leads to the idea that antioxidants can help improve health and aging.
Consumption of antioxidants is thought to provide protection against oxidative damage and contribute positive health benefits. For example, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin engage in antioxidant activities that have been shown to increase macular pigment density in the eye. Whether this will prevent or reverse the progression of macular degeneration remains to be determined.10 An increasing body of evidence suggests beneficial effects of the antioxidants present in grapes, cocoa, blueberries, and teas on cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease, and even reduction of the risk of some cancers.
Taking Vitamins for Antioxidants
Despite the clear role of oxidative stress in cardiovascular disease, controlled studies using antioxidant vitamins have observed no clear reduction in the risk or progression of heart disease. This suggests that other substances in fruit and vegetables (possibly flavonoids) at least partially explain the better cardiovascular health of those who consume more fruit and vegetables.
During exercise, oxygen consumption can increase by a factor of more than 10. This leads to a large increase in the production of oxidants and results in damage that contributes to muscular fatigue during and after exercise. The inflammatory response that occurs after strenuous exercise is also associated with oxidative stress, especially in the 24 hours after an exercise session. The immune system response to damage done by exercise peaks 2 to 7 days after exercise, the period during which adaptation resulting in greater fitness is greatest. During this process, free radicals are produced by neutrophils to remove damaged tissue. As a result, excessive antioxidant levels have the potential to inhibit recovery and adaptation mechanisms.
Antioxidant Supplementation and exercise
The evidence for benefits from antioxidant supplementation in vigorous exercise is mixed. There is strong evidence that one of the adaptations resulting from exercise is a strengthening of the body’s antioxidant defenses, particularly the glutathione system, to deal with the increased oxidative stress. It is possible that this effect may be to some extent protective against diseases which are associated with oxidative stress, which would provide a partial explanation for the lower incidence of major diseases and better health of those who undertake regular exercise.
After looking at this research and it is really thorough research it looks as though it is more important to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables instead of taking the pills that promise the same effect. I have taken vitamins for years but mostly to supplement what I do not get in my diet not to replace my diet with antioxidants in pill form.