If you've ever heard of free radicals, you know they're the enemy.
Our atmosphere contains a great deal of oxygen, which means oxygen radicals are found everywhere, which is why oxidative stress to some degree is unavoidable. Free radicals can damage the body's cells, and are believed to be at least partially responsible for some neurological disorders, as well as some cases of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
A natural defense against free radicals is taking in antioxidants. But how much should you have? Is it possible to take it too far? This is a question many Canadians are asking.
How Much Is Too Much?
Antioxidants are found in vitamins A, C and E. They are also found in minerals like selenium and in plant chemicals, including carotenoids and flavonoids.
As an example, let's look at two nutrients with strong antioxidant activity within the body: vitamin C and vitamin E. Research has indicated that nutrition affects the availability of vitamins C and E, which aid in the reduction of oxidative stress. They may also be able to reduce incidences of disease. Eating foods rich in antioxidants may also modulate risk factors for coronary heart disease and other ailments. Antioxidants like those in vitamins C and E are important to your health. However, you only need to take in enough to balance the free radicals in your body.
In a study using lab mice, researchers have found that overloading natural antioxidants could lead to eventual heart failure. When your body’s cells are working properly, they produce the right amount of the antioxidant known as reduced glutathione. If they produce too much, then reductive stress will develop. By lowering the reduced glutathione level in mice that had failing hearts, researchers prevented their heart failure. Balancing the amount of antioxidants and free radicals is the key.
The Role of Diet
Cell damage happens as you age -- this is natural. Antioxidants help to protect the cells of your body from this damage. Other cell damage can occur from cigarette smoke and pollution. It can lead to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The way you can offset those effects is by getting all the nutrients your body needs.
You don't need to supplement your antioxidant levels if you eat a healthy diet. It will give you the vital vitamins and minerals your body needs. Many healthy foods contain the antioxidants your body needs to fight off dangerous free radicals. Using natural antioxidants may reduce the risk of taking in too many antioxidants for your body to use. Make sure you include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, seeds, nuts and healthy fats in your diet. Tea, particularly green tea is a great source of antioxidants, like EGCG.
Food rich in vitamin A include carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Note the bright orange color, which is the result of carotenoids. To increase your intake of vitamin C, include raspberries and strawberries in your diet. Fruits like mango, grapefruit and papaya are helpful, too. As for vegetables, pick up some Brussels sprouts, spinach and green or peppers. To get more vitamin E in your diet, try some avocados and aim to eat fish twice a week, especially tuna, salmon and mackerel. You might also enjoy sprinkling sunflower seeds or almonds in your cereal or on your salads. Adding selenium to your daily diet is as easy as enjoying beans, nuts, eggs and fish throughout the day. No foods you haven't heard of before.
If you have food sensitivities and allergies or don't like the foods mentioned, supplements can be a great way to add more antioxidants to your diet. You can find single vitamin supplements, like A, C and E as well as individual antioxidant supplements like lycopene, which commonly comes from tomatoes, or resveratrol, which can be found in grapes. Your doctor can help you determine the best dosage for your needs and for how long to take the supplement. If you're pregnant, nursing or currently being treated for a medical condition, it's especially important to speak with your physician first before adding any supplement.
Check out our entire selection of antioxidant supplements at eVitamins Canada and let us know what products you like best!