Do Antioxidant Supplements Really Work?

Despite widespread use, serious concerns and information gaps exist regarding the safety and overall effectiveness of antioxidant supplements, which begs the question of whether or not they're really necessary for good health.

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These days it seems as if everyone is obsessed with getting enough antioxidants in their diets. This is with good reason too, as substantial amounts are needed to boost immunity and help ward off diseases and other ailments. Since antioxidant deficiencies are very common amongst the general population, many people turn to supplements.

So much so that the antioxidant supplement market alone is now a multibillion-dollar industry.

Despite widespread use, serious concerns and information gaps exist regarding the safety and overall effectiveness of antioxidant supplements, which begs the question of whether or not they’re really necessary for good health.

Based on years of experience and accumulated knowledge in this area of nutrition, I think they’re an utter waste of effort and money, at least for generally healthy people.

Why, you ask?

Well, before I get too deep, I’ll first need to highlight some basic information about how antioxidants themselves actually work.

Simply put, antioxidants are needed to offset the presence of free radicals.

Free radicals are chemicals that are naturally produced when the body converts food to energy (metabolism) but exposures to environmental toxins like tobacco smoke, ultraviolet rays, and air pollution can also cause them to form.

Under normal circumstances, the body is able to counterbalance free radical formation through a combination of its own natural antioxidant defenses as well as antioxidants supplied by the diet. However, when the body’s antioxidant defense mechanisms are impaired or when there are insufficient amounts of dietary antioxidants, free radicals can build up causing damage to cells, tissues, and organs of the body.  

Since, most illnesses and diseases are in some way or another linked to damage caused by excess free radical production, consuming an antioxidant-rich diet is critical for prevention and overall good health.

Indeed increased intakes of dietary antioxidants like vitamin A (beta-carotene), C (ascorbic acid), and vitamin E (α-tocopherol) has been proven beneficial in lowering the risk of numerous conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, degenerative diseases and inflammatory disorders.

Now, unbeknownst to many, the benefits associated with increased intakes have generally been related to increased consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, as opposed to supplements. In most instances, antioxidant supplements do not reduce the risks of developing any of these diseases.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, supplement makers continue to tout the disease-preventing effects of synthetic antioxidants to unsuspecting consumers when in all actuality they haven’t been proven effective.

In fact, taking in exceptionally large doses or “megadoses” of antioxidants in supplement form could actually lead to adverse effects. This might sound unbelievable but it’s totally true. With the exception of vitamin C, dietary antioxidants are not excreted in urine, which essentially means that they can easily accumulate in the body and become toxic.

So, why even go there? Especially considering the potential risks.

There are just too many ways to get ample amounts of antioxidants from everyday foods.

For instance, you can obtain well over 300 percent of the daily-recommended intake of vitamin A by eating just two small carrots, a cup of steamed kale or a 1-cup serving of baked sweet potatoes. In addition, by including a wide range of fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds into your dietary repertoire, you’ll get ample amounts of vitamins C and E.

Remarkably, plant-based foods also house specialized compounds called phynutrients (flavonoids, lignans, indoles, isoflavones, and polyphenols), which, in and of themselves, have powerful antioxidant-like effects.

But it doesn’t stop at antioxidants!

Incredibly large amounts of fiber and other health-promoting vitamins and minerals are housed in plant-based foods–ingredients that just can’t be obtained from a single supplement. Interestingly enough, associations between antioxidant intake and disease risk are actually more reflective of the collective actions of all these dietary factors as opposed to the antioxidants themselves.   

In other words, disease prevention and overall good health requires a holistic dietary approach that’s inclusive of antioxidants.

At the end of the day, you can get all the antioxidants you need and a host of other valuable nutrients by simply consuming a diet that’s rich in plant-based foods. No supplements necessary! Still, if you choose to include supplements in your diet, know that they don’t prevent disease nor will they make you any healthier. Just an unnecessary burden on the budget.

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