Do antioxidant supplements work, and are they necessary? These are good questions seeing how “antioxidants” and “free radicals” are terms we hear every day, however, this wasn’t always the case. Around the 1990s people learned that free radical damage was related to a wide variety of medical problems such as cancer, heart disease, vision loss and essentially every chronic disease.
Since then, a huge marketing campaign developed around health products has continued to grow.
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Free Radical & Antioxidant Relationship
In the beginning, foods and supplements were simply publicized as, “Rich in Antioxidants,” but now there’s an entire line of antioxidant supplements and complexes on the market. It’s actually become a $500 million dollar industry that continues to grow. (1) It goes without saying that the term “antioxidant” is making some Big DOLLARS! But do antioxidant supplements work?
According to Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, free radicals provoke a harmful chain reaction:
“[They] are dangerous because they don’t just damage one molecule. One free radical can set off a whole chain reaction. When a free radical oxidizes a fatty acid, it changes that fatty acid into a free radical, which then damages another fatty acid. It’s a very rapid chain reaction.” (2)
Ultimately, this avalanche can overrun the immune system, which puts society at a high risk of developing a number of diseases along with everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer. Antioxidants such as polyphenols are in high demand because research continues to show that people who do not include antioxidant-rich foods in their diet are at greater risk for developing these types of free radical related chronic conditions. Polyphenols, of which there are more than 5,000 varieties in foods, are the largest class of antioxidants that are technically water-soluble plant metabolites containing 15 carbon atoms.
Polyphenols, being the active substances found in many medicinal plants, have a significant effect on many enzymes and cell receptors. Some terms you may be familiar with include:
- Flavonoids (3)
According to one study reviewed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information:
“Many flavonoids are shown to have antioxidative activity, free-radical scavenging capacity, coronary heart disease prevention, and anticancer activity, while some flavonoids exhibit potential for anti-human immunodeficiency virus functions. As such research progresses, further achievements will undoubtedly lead to a new era of flavonoids in either foods or pharmaceutical supplements.”
Bioactive foods are rich in these antioxidant compounds. Interestingly, history tells us that flavonoids were once referred to as “vitamin P” back in the 1930s, but that name has lost its place for some reason. (5) It’s the flavonoids that provide the deep colored pigments to fruits and vegetables. That’s why foods such as blueberries and kale are rich with color and are so healthy for you.
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Truth About Antioxidant Supplements
If flavonoids found in nature can help reverse disease, then the logical conclusion would be that antioxidant supplements can be beneficial, right? Regrettably, they are not.
According to a recent Harvard article reporting on taking antioxidant supplements:
“The trials were mixed, but most have not found the hoped-for benefits. Most research teams reported that vitamin E and other antioxidant supplements didn’t protect against heart disease or cancer. One study even showed that taking beta-carotene may actually increase the chances of developing lung cancer in smokers.” (6)
Nevertheless, synthetic antioxidants are still praised as promoting disease prevention and are regularly included as additives into our breakfast cereals, energy drinks and thousands upon thousands of processed foods!
Harvard’s School of Public Health states:
“Often the claims have stretched and distorted the data: While it’s true that the package of antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and other substances found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help prevent a variety of chronic diseases, it is unlikely that high doses of antioxidants can accomplish the same feat.”
So, do taking antioxidant supplements work?
As you can see, it is critical that we understand the difference between the usefulness of natural antioxidants and man-made antioxidants.
Beyond the Hype
Actually, if 1 is good, then 10 isn’t always better. And we know this is certainly true concerning man-made products! The best, most effective way to combat free radicals is to consume naturally occurring antioxidants in bioactive rich food.
However, research has shown than non-antioxidant supplements like Beta-1, 3D Glucan can be very effective at combating free radicals and disease. Although commonly mistaken as part of the antioxidant family, immunologist A.J. Lanigan, Ph.D., states that is not the case. In an interview with Dr. Christopher Perkins, Dr. Lanigan shares:
“In the classical sense, an antioxidant is going to be something that either gives up an electron, grabs an electron, neutralizes a free radical, or somehow defeats the oxidizing agent and nullifies it. Beta-1, 3D Glucan is not an antioxidant in that respect. In contrast, what you are going to find is, there is a lot of debris in the body that gives rise to free radicals.
Because of Beta-1, 3D Glucan’s unique ability to combat free radicals, it is a great companion to an antioxidant-rich diet filled with fruits and veggies. When you purchase Beta-1, 3D Glucan, just make sure that you get the right kind. Dr. Lanigan goes on to explain:
“One of the great jobs that the immune system does, the phagocytes in particular, is gobbling up and disposing of the garbage that accumulates this waste: dead and dying cells. The immune system is constantly surveying and when it finds a cell that’s weak and dying, it’s all about disposing of that cell to eliminate the release of free radicals. In this sense, Beta Glucan has a tangible influence on the volume of Oxygen Free radicals in the body.” (7)
The scientific literature is clear on one thing: beta glucan sourced from baker’s yeast has shown the most benefits in multiple areas, leading researchers to focus even more on this source in more recent studies. Buy from a trusted supplier that offers a beta glucan with a minimum of 83% Beta-1, 3D Glucan content, with no harmful contaminants.
My family and I enjoy beta glucan from our good friends at Better Way Health. We know the owners very well and believe in them, their mission and that their product is one of the purest (if not THE purest) on the market!
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