Antioxidants and Your Health

IMAGE In the 1990s, antioxidants became famous as the nutritional equivalent of the fountain of youth. Increasing your intake of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium was promoted as an easy and painless way to prevent cancer, heart disease, vision problems, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and many other illnesses. Unfortunately, recent research has put a damper on this excitement. It now appears that antioxidant proponents had jumped the gun. In fact, these supplements may have little benefit for these purposes. Worse still, some may even increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are chemical substances naturally found in foods. They function as a protective shield against harmful, unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals are produced throughout the body as a result of normal body functions. They have some important uses, such as fighting infection. However, free radicals can also cause harm to healthy tissues and are believed to play a role in many diseases. The potential harmful effects of excessive free radicals range from cosmetic to life-threatening. They may break down skin tissue, making it look older than it is. They may injure the lens of the eye, leading to the early development of cataracts. And they may make it harder for cells to repair themselves, which can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases of age. The body itself has a well-developed system to contain free radicals. High consumption of certain nutrients might boost this system, and thereby improve health.

Types of Antioxidants

There are a variety of antioxidants present in many different foods. The following is a list of the most well known antioxidants and the foods in which they are found. Also listed are selenium and manganese, which are not antioxidants themselves, but are necessary for the body to create its own natural antioxidants.
Antioxidant or Antioxidant-producing Nutrient Food Sources
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids (eg, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin) Yellow/orange/red or dark green fruits and vegetables
Vitamin C Citrus fruit, strawberries, red chili peppers, sweet peppers, dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and strawberries
Vitamin E Polyunsaturated vegetable oils, seeds, nuts, and whole grains
Manganese Whole grains, legumes, avocados, grape juice, chocolate, egg yolks, nuts, seeds, boysenberries, blueberries, pineapples, dark green vegetables
Selenium Meat, chicken, seafood, milk, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables

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