Monday, October 17, 2011

Antioxidant Nonsense

These days, it seems that everyone is touting their products as powerful antioxidants. From pomegranates to acai berries to dietary supplements like alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10 and vitamins E and C.

All those antioxidant must be great for you! Right? Is all this antioxidant nonsense?

Well maybe. And maybe not. The truth may surprise you.

Some knowledge of chemistry is required to really understand what an antioxidant is. More specifically, you should know biochemistry since we are dealing with biological systems, like your body.

Let me simplify. But first some background.

All animals need oxygen for life. When oxygen combines with molecules in our body all is not perfect. Some undesirable processes including oxidation occur in the body. Oxidation involves oxygen, Electrons are transferred between molecules. With oxidation, molecules called free radicals and reactive oxygen species are produced.

Examples of reactive oxygen species include: superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, nitric oxide, peroxynitrite, hypochlorous acid, singlet oxygen, and the hydroxyl radical. Reactive oxygen species can cause harmful chemical reactions damaging or killing cells.  This is called oxidative damage.

Antioxidants tend to stop those reactions. On the other hand, pro-oxidants tend to increase those reactions and increase reactive oxygen species. And iron tends to promote oxidative damage. Zinc tends to prevent oxidative damage.

But reactive oxygen species are not all bad. Reactive oxygen species are essential for our immune system. Reactive oxygen species are used to kill bacteria and viruses. And one of these molecules, nitric oxide is required for a multitude of body functions. We would die without nitric oxide.

In our body there is a very complex balance between antioxidants and pro-oxidants, between oxidation and, its opposite, reduction.

You can’t just easily change that balance by taking pills or foods that contain supposed antioxidants. One recent study showed that in people with chronic kidney disease.

And something that is an antioxidant in the usual laboratory test may not act like an antioxidant in your body.

For example, Vitamin C can serve as a pro-oxidant. Flavonoids like those in red wine can also act like pro-oxidants.

And if it’s an antioxidant in the laboratory that does not mean it’s safe. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a good antioxidant in the lab. It is also well known as a substance that causes birth defects and cancer.

We also have better ways now to test for antioxidants and oxidative damage in the lab.  One of the best methods measures F2-isoprostane production. This test gives information on oxidation of fats. Older methods like total oxidant capacity are probably worthless.

So don’t think you’re smarter than your body with it’s amazing array of complex mechanisms working to balance pro-oxidants and antioxidants, oxidation and reduction.

And what if you succeed in disrupting this fine balance? Maybe you’ll mess things up and cause more problems.

Now you might better understand the results of recent large randomized, controlled clinical trials with vitamin and mineral supplements. 

So all this stuff about antioxidants is more antioxidant nonsense and marketing hype than it is sound science. 

Eat a variety of foods including plenty of fruits and vegetables but don't take pills or eat foods just because you think they are antioxidants.

That's antioxidant nonsense.

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