Wed | Mar 29, 2017

ARE ANTIOXIDANTS HEALTHY OR NOT?

Published:Saturday | March 21, 2015 | 3:00 AM

Antioxidant consumption is one of the things that has been touted as such, but there has been conflicting information given about whether antioxidants are beneficial to your health. What's the real story?

Even though oxygen is necessary for life, some of the chemical reactions that occur in our bodies, in which it is involved, are actually harmful. These reactions can damage cells, their components and other important substances in our bodies. Chemicals called 'free radicals' are usually responsible for these reactions. Free radicals are produced by the body and are also in the foods that we eat. They can cause damage to DNA, which can lead to the formation of cancer cells. They also damage the blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular diseases like strokes and heart attack. They exist for very short periods of time but there is usually a constant supply and their effects can be lasting.

Antioxidants, however, neutralise these free radicals before they can wreak havoc.

There are different types of antioxidants. There are the vitamins, such as A and C; minerals such as selenium and zinc, flavonoids and carotenoids (eg. lycopene). They are present in whole grains, brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

So what's the controversy about? When population studies were done with supplements of these antioxidants, no benefits were found. As a matter of fact, some of them actually increased the risk of illness. For example, selenium supplements were shown to increase the risk of prostate cancer. So should we avoid antioxidants?

The fundamental problem with how these studies were done was that they used supplements, not the antioxidants, in the form which we normally consume them.

Antioxidants are best obtained from the foods which we eat, and those foods should be consumed in the most appropriate ways. Some foods should be cooked and some should be had fresh and raw.

Antioxidants are part of a team that has to work together for the best outcome. That is why their supplements don't work well, as it is like expecting one member of a team to perform as well as the team. Many studies have been done which shows the benefits of eating foods rich in antioxidants. These include lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, blindness, diabetes and hypertension. As the saying goes, "together, everyone achieves more" (TEAM).