In today’s health-crazed world, consumers seem to be in constant search of the latest and greatest power-food or specialized diet for maximizing physical wellbeing. Unlike many new food trends or passing nutrition fads, antioxidants have persisted in the public’s imagination as one of the ultimate ingredients in the fight against free radicals, oxidative stress, and chronic disease. But are antioxidants actually scientifically proven to battle illness and restore cell health, as people believe?
We take a closer look below.
What Exactly Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds thought to slow oxidation, a chemical reaction in the body that can produce cell-damaging free radicals. As those with nutrition and health training backgrounds know, antioxidants are found in many fruits and vegetables as well as manufactured supplements. Some of the most well-known examples of antioxidants are:
- Vitamins C & E
Why Are Consumers Interested in Combating Free Radicals?
Free radicals are unwanted atoms in the body, produced as a natural by-product of chemical processes that occur after consuming certain types of foods, beverages, and other kinds of products. Research has shown these rogue atoms to rob the human body of healthy electrons, causing damage to cells and genetic material in the process. This has the potential to cause all kinds of chronic diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and others.
Some examples of the substances more commonly associated with free radical production include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol consumption
- Fried foods
- Air pollutants
- Some medications
What Benefits Do People Believe They’ll Get From Antioxidants?
With the decades-long connection made by researchers between free radicals and chronic disease, consumers were primed for a solution that seemed to arrive with the discovery of antioxidants in the 1990s. At that time, studies revealed that subjects having a low intake of antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables were more at risk of developing disease and other chronic conditions than those who ate lots of them.
Ever since, marketers have effectively slapped “antioxidant rich” on packaging labels as a way of convincing consumers of the health benefits of such products. Graduates of nutrition and health programs who begin working with clients are likely to quickly notice just how many people truly believe antioxidants to be a key ingredient for creating a healthier body.
What Should Those with Nutrition and Health Training Know About Their Proven Benefits?
While the connection between a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and good health is well supported by health professionals and researchers, the science behind this benefit is less obvious, with no definitive research connecting antioxidants to improved health. While antioxidants do appear to assist in the body’s natural DNA reparation and cell maintenance processes, it remains unclear as to whether the voracious fruit and vegetable eaters of society are healthier simply because they also tend to make better lifestyle choices and better overall eating habits
Are There Potential Harms to Taking Them?
The most health-oriented consumers might consider antioxidants to be a key aspect of their wellbeing strategy, but may actually be causing harm to their bodies by over-consuming them. Researchers have warned of increased risks from taking high doses of antioxidants, such as accelerating the growth of cancers. Antioxidant supplements may also interfere with the functioning of various medications.
With all of the above in mind, consumers should continue to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as a proven practice for a healthier lifestyle, and discuss the use of antioxidant supplements with their doctors to prevent any potential health risks.
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