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Antioxidant Superfruit or Super Supplements?

The more we know about antioxidants, the more we realize that a diet that provides plenty of them is an important defense against disease. However, these benefits may not hold for those taking supplements to get their antioxidants rather than relying on dietary antioxidants – those occurring naturally in foods like fruits and vegetables. According to a new study, supplements meant to provide protection against disease may actually increase health risks.

An Antioxidant Primer

Antioxidants are important because they wage the battle against “free radicals”. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that cause cancer and heart disease. Aging itself has been determined to be an accumulation of “oxidative stress” which is the result of damage done by these free radical forms of oxygen. Dietary antioxidants – those found in fruits and vegetables – neutralize these free radicals and prevent the cell damage at the source of these diseases.

Antioxidants also protect against inflammation and are thought to be a leading factor in brain aging, Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases of aging. Scientists continue to study the potential benefits of antioxidants in brain health, urinary tract health, vision health, and heart health, in addition to cancer prevention. As scientists have come to understand the oxidative process in the body, they have also come to understand that those people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which provide these crucial antioxidants, tend to live longer and be healthier.

We talk about wild blueberries a lot at Wild About Health! because antioxidant amounts are notoriously high in deeply colored pigments of the skins of fruits and vegetables. That’s especially true of wild blueberries, because of their deep-blue skin and their high skin-to-pulp ratio. While the “antioxidant superfruit” moniker conjures otherworldly powers, they are grounded in a very natural potency that does battle against free radicals and the diseases caused by aging the best way we know how.

An Important Knowledge Gap

It stands to reason that in an effort to get the benefits of antioxidants we would turn to supplements. However, a recent study out of Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles has called supplements into question. The report posits that high doses of antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C and E, raise the risk of dangerous changes in human cells, and as a result, may actually increase the risk of cancer.

Researchers associated with the study assure us that taking a multivitamin is still OK, but caution that more does not mean better, and could mean worse. George Jetson may have been served his meal in pill form by his robotic maid, but such a lifestyle may contradict good health. In fact, it is in the comparison of natural nutrients and supplements where we reach a gap in our knowledge.

Antioxidants in a supplement simply do not have the same effect as those found naturally in fruits and vegetables. What’s more, the potential negative effects of high dosing that can occur in supplements are not replicated in foods. Something is missing – something happens with antioxidants occurring naturally in food that cannot be reproduced in a supplement. From the article in UK’s Telegraph:

“Yet if the value of antioxidant supplements is at best uncertain, the evidence for the life-prolonging benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables seems clear. The challenge now is to explain why they work in this form but appear to fail as isolated key chemicals.”

While the study prompts questions about supplement dosing (when a dose becomes an overdose), other questions concern how nutrients in naturally occurring antioxidants work in combination with other chemicals enabling the positive effects. Is it a secret synchronicity provided by nature? Or is it simply that those who eat foods high in antioxidants, like fruits and veggies, do other things that are healthy too?

 The Bottom Line

The bottom line is: there may be no short cut to good health. In a world rife with easy answers to health, this latest information reinforces the need to hold our natural sources of nutrients in the highest esteem while remaining informed about the consequences of those that come in a bottle. Foods, compared with supplements, come out on top. For now, George Jetson can keep his bite-sized meal – along with his flying car and robotic maid.

Start engaging in natural anti-aging: Find out about the #1 Antioxidant Superfruit.

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