Antioxidant Supplements? – Not So Good!

evolution rAlmost everything you have heard about antioxidants in the past may not be true!
 
Unfortunately, some facts that we thought were proven in the past have been invalidated today. For example, we thought that science proved that saturated fats were unhealthy, but recently published meta-analysis articles (Here, Here and Here) have shown that saturated fats from plants and pastured animals are actually necessary and healthy for our bodies.
 
The question then becomes, “Will the facts that science verifies today become false tomorrow?” The answer is, “In some cases, yes!”
 
So, what can we do if we look to science for answers?
 
My personal approach has been to take a broad view – like you would observe at 30,000 feet above the earth in an airplane.
 
For example, if you were seated on a plane before takeoff and looked out the window, you only would be able to see the runway. Once the plane began its ascent, you would see some of the rooftops surrounding the airport. As the plane continued to climb, you now would be able to see some of the roads and waterways making up the city. After the climb and now at cruising altitude, you could make out the mountains, clumps of neighborhoods, and a broad overview of the terrain.
 
My approach to what is best for us as humans is to first take the most comprehensive view. To me, that means studying our species’ evolution over the course of 2.5 million years. The facts of evolution have given me a healthier appreciation of what allowed our species to survive and thrive. Therein lies the truth!
 
The fact that we are alive today is a testament to these truths. Our bodies are complex and intricately designed. Almost always our bodies will function at their peak if given the nutrients and lifestyle from which they evolved.
 
This leads up to supplements. Generally, supplements are not necessary for our body. Nutrient-dense foods usually will be the only nourishment our bodies require to function optimally unless there was a disease that had damaged the body’s ability to perform in a healthy state.
 
Antioxidants are among the most popular health-protecting supplements sold worldwide without prescription. As a society, we think we need to purchase them in huge amounts in order to help rid our bodies of all those bad free radicals that are running around causing harm to our cells.  Research is showing that “it just ain’t so.”
 
Free radicals are molecules or atoms containing an unpaired electron. Unpaired electrons are hungry for another electron with which to pair up. Electrons want to exist in pairs. They are unstable until they get that additional electron from somewhere else so that they can be paired up again.
 
However, free radicals are naturally occurring byproducts of normal functions within the cells of our body. They are formed from the cell’s use of oxygen to produce energy. In turn, these free radicals, in the form of oxidative stress, can signal the cell to make its own homemade antioxidants through the pathway of Nrf2. Activation of Nrf2 can also be stimulated by various nutrients in foods, and this process is critical to our survival.
 
Antioxidants are molecules that are able to donate an electron to the free radical, thus stabilizing the free radical by giving it the extra electron to make a happy pair.
 
If free radicals are unable to get their needed electrons from antioxidants, these radicals can cause damage to the body through oxidative stress, which is associated with ageing, heart failure, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many other health problems.
 
In the past, science has suggested that the more antioxidants we ingest, the less oxidative stress we have to endure. These antioxidants would donate electrons to the free radicals and neutralize their potential damage. However, antioxidants themselves can become reactive (become a free radical themselves) after donating an electron to a free radical.
 
In the human body there are many varieties of antioxidants present. As I mentioned, we can produce them internally by stimulating the Nrf2 pathway. Also, our body can obtain antioxidants from nutrient-dense foods we ingest from a primal diet. The varieties of antioxidants in our system can buffer each other as they in turn give up electrons to newly formed free radical molecules.
 
As an example, one naturally occurring external source of antioxidants is chocolate. It contains more than 20 antioxidant flavonoids. Once you eat chocolate, its antioxidants have the ability to donate electrons to free radicals in the body. As one type of flavonoid gives up an electron to a free radical, this flavonoid is converted into a free radical itself and becomes reactive, but less reactive than the free radical to which it donated its electron. This reactive flavonoid then receives an electron from another type of flavonoid within the chocolate. This second flavonoid becomes reactive but not to the extent of the first flavonoid. This goes on and on with each successive flavonoid giving up an electron but becoming less reactive. Eventually, the naturally occurring antioxidants in chocolate (in this example) decrease the damage of free radicals in our body.
 
A problem occurs when we take a high-dose antioxidant supplement. For example, taking a high-dose vitamin C supplement provides only one form of an antioxidant. There are no other antioxidants in this supplement to offer the protective give and take by providing extra electrons. The end result could be an abundance of antioxidant molecules of vitamin C that are now free radicals themselves. They have become highly reactive with no means of neutralizing themselves. This creates more oxidative stress.
 
The bottom line is to help your body produce its own antioxidants as necessary and to utilize the antioxidants supplied in nutrient-dense foods. Taking doses of antioxidant supplements could prove unhealthy, resulting in more oxidative stress to your body. Eating a nutrient-dense diet like the primal diet not only could promote activation of the Nrf2 pathway but also could provide numerous varieties of beneficial antioxidants for your cells.

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