Are Antioxidant supplements good for you? 5 best sources of antioxidants
Antioxidant Vitamin Supplements
Antioxidants can be described as substances that are known to protect the cells in the body against the effects of free radicals. A free radical is an atom or a molecule that contains one or more unpaired electrons that are capable of freely existing. They are produced through a series of processes in the body and usually consist of reactive oxygen species or reactive nitrogen species. Free radicals are known to play significant roles in medical conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants can be described as Superhero characters in the body because they protect us from Free radicals.
Importance of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are known to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals in the body because of oxidative stress. Some activities that may cause oxidative stress includes excessive exercise, consumption of certain foods, smoking, environmental pollution and exposure of some chemicals.
When free radicals damage the cells in the body, it may lead to a disruption of electron transport chains and the generation of more free radicals. Antioxidants are known to help reduce the risks of this happening.
Are antioxidant supplements good for you? Vitamin Supplements and Antioxidants
A survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition in 2018 reported that about 75% of US adults take dietary supplements with vitamins being used across the generations. Vitamins are described as micronutrients that are required in very small amounts for the body to function properly. These are different from macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins that are required and consumed in larger amounts.
Vitamins A, C and E are good sources of antioxidants. The table below provides a list of some food sources for these vitamins.
FOODS RICH IN ANTIOXIDANT VITAMINS
|VITAMIN A||Livers, fish, eggs, cereals, yoghurt, spinach, carrot, broccoli, nuts, carrot|
|VITAMIN C||Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, kiwi, broccoli, cabbage, spinach|
|VITAMIN E||Spinach, broccoli, cucumber, avocado, almost, eggs|
Vitamin C: Water Soluble vitamin
Vitamin C which is also known as Ascorbic Acid is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C has been long known for its role in preventing Scurvy. Vitamin C is considered as the most widely used vitamin supplement in the world and many people consider it to be useful and beneficial.
Vitamin C safeguards the water-soluble substances in the body from damage by free radicals. Usually, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule and grab its electron in the process. This attack is referred to as Oxidative Stress. The process continues with the molecule that has lost its electron as it also becomes a free radical itself. If this chain reaction continues, it can disturb a living cell which may result in unwanted medical conditions. Diseases such as atherosclerosis, stroke, and cancer have been liked to excessive oxidative stress.
Vitamin C in the body can neutralise a free radical without becoming a free radical itself. It does this by donating one or two hydrogen atoms to neutralize a free radical which prevents a chain reaction. When Vitamin C is with its two hydrogen atoms, it is called Ascorbic Acid and when it has lost its two hydrogen atoms it is called Dehydroascorbic acid. Dehydroascorbic acid cannot act as an antioxidant and will need to be recharged before it exhibits its antioxidant properties.
Also, Vitamin C plays a critical role in regenerating vitamin E after it has performed its role as an antioxidant. Vitamin C plays an additional role by assisting in the absorption of iron in the intestines.
The recommended daily intake for Vitamin C is about 80mg but can be pushed to 90mg for men and 75mg for women. This can easily be obtained from eating a well-balanced diet
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin whose role was not well understood until around 1967. Vitamin E is an important vitamin when it comes to heart health and it also plays a critical role in improving the immune system. Research suggests that Vitamin E helps with the prevention of heart disease and in cases where heart diseases exist, it may help from making the condition worse.
What makes vitamin E special is how good it is at protecting the cell membranes and free radicals.
It works well as an antioxidant because it is fat-soluble, and the cell membranes consist of high amounts of fat. The fats that are present in the cell membranes are prone to oxidation by free radicals. The interior of these cell membranes is mostly inaccessible to water-soluble antioxidants and this is where Vitamin E comes to play. It can reach in and neutralize the free radicals that may exist in these cell membranes.
It also does a good job of combining with Vitamin A, Beta Carotene, and Vitamin C to provide additional protection to the body.
It is common for people living in places like the UK and the USA to obtain enough vitamin E from dietary sources, but more people are now combining that with vitamin E supplements to ensure that they avoid any possible deficiencies. Some good food sources of vitamin E include avocados, asparagus, nuts, vegetable oils, and seeds.
Vitamin A is a group of compounds with similar structures called retinoids. Inside the body, vitamin A occurs in five different forms; retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, retinyl palmitate, and beta-carotene. They each perform functions that cannot be done by the others.
Beta-carotene performs key antioxidant functions that none of the other forms of Vitamin A can achieve. It is one of the most powerful antioxidants in food which can neutralize free radicals hence, reducing the risk of macular degeneration, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Vitamin A supplements that are made without beta-carotene do not have antioxidant activity. There are lots of supplements on the market that contain forms of Vitamin A that do not have antioxidant properties. It is important to consider the type of Vitamin A supplement when buying Vitamin A supplements.
Beta-carotene is can be found in food sources such as yellow and orange vegetables and fruit. Green vegetables are also known to be rich in beta-carotene. Spinach and broccoli are examples of foods with Vitamin A. Spinach has about 6 times as much as broccoli which also contains more Vitamin A than cabbage and celery. Meat and dairy products are usually low in Vitamin A.
Herbal Supplements and Antioxidants
Ginkgo Biloba supplements are obtained from the dried leaves of the ginkgo tree and they are mainly known to support healthy blood flow to the brain and to help sharpen the memory. Some of the constituents of Ginkgo biloba such as flavonoids and terpenoids that are biologically active are responsible for the wide-ranging therapeutic benefit of the plant.
Flavonoids that are present in ginkgo biloba extracts are responsible for the antioxidant properties of ginkgo biloba.
Lugasi et al 1999, concluded that the active compounds of the ethanol extract from Ginkgo biloba leaves can act as primary and/or secondary antioxidants, chelating agents, and free radical scavengers in the prevention of lipid oxidation. All these properties are important in the antioxidant behaviour of Ginkgo biloba and are involved in the beneficial health effect of the plant.
Turmeric is a golden spice derived from the rhizome of Curcuma longa plant and has been used as a spice for cooking in many Asian countries and in herbal remedies. Turmeric is used in different ways. For example, it can be dried and used as a spice in cooking, turmeric powder can also be taken as a supplement and dried turmeric can also be used as a paste and applied to the skin.
Curcumin which is the active ingredient in turmeric is responsible for the health benefits associated with turmeric.
Extensive scientific research shows that turmeric has antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
It is also an important ingredient that may help reduce the risk of some diseases like arthritis and Alzheimer’s (Check Health benefits of turmeric).
Curcumin is very effective at scavenging peroxyl radicals.
What antioxidant supplement should I take? The Bottom line
A well-balanced diet is the best way to ensure you’re getting the right amounts of vitamins and minerals in the body for optimal health. Bjelakovic et al in a research reported that there is no evidence in taking antioxidant supplements to prevent any disease. This was in a study of 78 clinical trials involving 296,707 participants. In another study, Myung et al concluded that there is no evidence to support the use of vitamins and antioxidant supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Eating a well-balanced diet with fresh vegetables and fruits is the best way to meet all the daily requirements of vitamins.
Vitamin supplements cannot replace or counteract poor diets such as diets that do not contain vegetables and fruits.
The beneficial effects of vitamin supplements may only be obtained when combined with a proper diet. It may also be an inexpensive option for a select group of people who stand a higher risk of vitamin deficiency.
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DASGUPTA, A. (2016). ANTIOXIDANTS IN FOOD, VITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS. [Place of publication not identified]: ELSEVIER.
Pressman, A. and Buff, S. (2007). The complete idiot’s guide to vitamins and minerals. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha.