Antioxidant Vitamins – Do They Help Or Hurt?

Do you know what an antioxidant actually is and how it really works? Probably not, but you also have probably heard that they may provide health benefits.  Current thinking is that these powerful substances can help to prevent damage to the cells that make up your body, or even at times can help to even reverse damage that has already been done. Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin E, C and beta carotene can potentially provide health benefits for your body.   

It is believed that antioxidants work primarily by helping to slow down or prevent the oxidative process caused by free radicals. Now your body naturally produces some free radicals as a part of the metabolic process. And sometimes it even creates free radicals on purpose to help fight against viruses and bacteria.  

To really understand how antioxidants help to combat the negative effects of free radicals we would have to go back to your high school chemistry and talk about cells and molecules – fun stuff like that.   But an easier way to visualize the complicated process that is going on inside your body is to do a little experiment. Cut a couple of slices out of an apple and dip one in orange juice (a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants) and let them set out for awhile. You should see the one you didn’t dip in orange juice start to turn brown pretty quickly – that’s oxidation. The one dipped in orange juice, and therefore all pumped up with vitamin C stays white. A similar process is going on inside your body.  

The body produces its own antioxidants and by eating a healthy diet that includes 5-8 servings of fruit and vegetables each day we can help it out in this process. But that’s an awful lot of fruits and vegetables – so why not just go down to our local health food store and stock up on some vitamins, after all, more is better – right? Not always. The long-term effect on our bodies of taking mega-doses of vitamins has not been proven. However, there is considerable evidence to support the fact that by eating fruits, vegetables and nuts that contain antioxidants and other nutrients that are good for your heart you can reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease.  And that’s the recommendation for the American Heart Association – eat a balanced healthy diet, they don’t recommend using antioxidant vitamin supplements until more research is done. They go on to say that not only have recent trials failed to demonstrate any benefit from taking antioxidant supplements but some studies suggest that it may be harmful.

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