New studies on how antioxidants actually work in our bodies suggest we are overdoing it on the supplements.
Many people take a multivitamin. It seems like an easy way to ensure you are staying healthy, but do you know exactly what’s in that pill? And did you know that some brands have 200 to 2,000 percent more than the recommended daily intake for each vitamin? It’s a common but misguided belief that more is better.
This belief is especially problematic when applied to vitamins and polyphenols (such as resveratrol) that act as antioxidants. That’s because they’re actually more effective at low doses.
Antioxidants are so-called because they protect cells in the body from oxidative damage. This damage has been linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Older research on vitamins showed that in vitro (in a petri dish) they can soak up free radicals and thus prevent oxidative harm. But new research shows that in vivo (in the body), the way vitamins work is completely different: they actually make harmful free radicals!
So why are they good for us then? This small amount of toxicity activates systems in the body that are already set up to protect us from the damaging effects of oxidation.
This means that we need only small quantities—such as what you find in fruits and vegetables—to trigger the body’s self-protection system. Anything beyond that could be overload, and cause more harm than good.
This is the principle of hormesis: that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. More specifically, hormesis is when small doses of a poison or stressor trigger systems in the body that will make it more prepared to deal with higher doses or bigger stressors.
The body’s self-protection system includes enzymes and proteins that can:
- Reverse oxidation
- Reduce inflammation
- Clean out the pesticides we ingest with our food
- Get rid of toxic metals
- Destroy damaged proteins that can be toxic if they accumulate in our cells
Usually the body doesn’t have these systems working at maximum capacity, but antioxidants can fire them up.
Cell damage due to oxidation is a normal part of life on earth, and we and other animals have evolved ways to both prevent and repair such damage.
But, there is a tipping point. When the stress and harm to cells become too much, they can lead to disease. That’s why ramping up the body’s ability to maintain that balance is important.
Try these herbs, roots, fruits and vegetables that have been shown to turn on the body’s natural antioxidant ability:
- Olive leaf
- Green tea
- Broccoli seeds and sprouts
Studies referred to in this article:
“Redox Homeostasis: The Golden Mean of Healthy Living” published in Redox Biology
“Neurohormetic Phytochemicals: An Evolutionary – Bioenergetic Perspective” published in Neurochemistry International
“How Do Nutritional Antioxidants Really Work: Nucleophilic Tone and Para-Hormesis Versus Free Radical Scavenging in vivo” published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine