It has become fashionable to purchase and intake antioxidants in many forms, pills, powders, superfoods or just the good, old dose of vegetables and fruits! This is done with the idea that the body creates many free radicals during its ‘normal’ metabolic activity and such free radicals create havoc in the organism by triggering reactions of destruction and blockage of proteins and fat molecules that are essential for our mere survival. Other free radicals come in with the food we eat, or with the effect of sunrays on our skin, or with toxins in the air etc. Such incredibly reactive free radicals damage and mutate DNA, damage proteins, damage cell membranes or also change LDL cholesterol into oxidized LDL which is more prone to stick to our arteries etc...
At least that was believed until a short while ago. There is now common agreement among many scientists that this intrusion into the functioning of the body is actually not a good idea and that the old beliefs that we can defeat ageing and death or at least extend our youth by defeating free radicals is not working. Taking antioxidants can actually do the opposite and one is more likely to die sooner!
Indeed, in several scientific trials, an intake of several antioxidant vitamins and minerals increased the risk of cancer. Trial experiments about the benefit of antioxidants and their ability to prevent atherosclerosis or cancer among other chronic diseases of age, done after the food and supplement industry started offering blueberries and vitamin C everywhere, were inconsistent and not clear on such a positive effect.
The reason would be that blocking the action of free radicals with intake of enormous amounts of antioxidants would actually silence that alarm signal that the magnificent body itself triggers when it senses the presence of such respiratory by-products that are free radicals or oxidant molecules. Now, silencing this signal would stop a series of reactions that naturally exist to protect the cell. The cell has its own defence system in the form of, for example, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, manganese, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, lipoic acid, etc. produced or taken from the food.
So, we should let go of buying all antioxidant prepacked products that the industry is making available to us. Save money and keep yourself in better condition by eating right and exercising.
But, we should still eat vegetables and fruits. Indeed these act in a different manner in the body: they challenge it with their natural poisons (phytochemicals used by the plants to ‘protect’ themselves from eaters) by stimulating cell turnover (replace of old bad cells with new ones) and exciting the system to produce its own protective batteries of antioxidants!
Trust your body, it knows! It got a few million years to figure it out.
Harvard, T.H. Chan, School of Public Health, 2016.
Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype.
Ball, P. 2016. Yes, Life in the Fast Lane Kills You. New insights into mitochondria reveal how life expends energy. Nautilus, 036 Ageing.