What’s an Antioxidant?



fork.jpgWhat exactly is an antioxidant and what does it have to do with cancer?

Per the American Dietetic Association: “Antioxidants are dietary substances including some nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamins C and E and selenium, that can prevent damage to your body cells or repair damage that has been done.”

Basically an antioxidant is capable of counteracting the normal damaging effects of oxidation by neutralizing free radicals in the body. The balance of antioxidants to oxidants is disturbed by poor diet, smoking, disease, normal aging, x-rays and many other things. When an antioxidant neutralizes a free radical, the antioxidant becomes oxidized and the body needs to be resupplied with antioxidants.

From the U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E, help protect healthy cells from damage by free radicals. Normal body functions such as breathing or physical activity, and other lifestyle habits, such as smoking, produce substances called free radicals that weaken healthy cells. Weakened cells are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.”

It’s important to remember that the consumption of exceptionally large amounts of antioxidants can be harmful to the body. Current studies in antioxidants are constantly reevaluating levels of antioxidants needed for optimal health and for healing. Antioxidants are found in foods we eat; however if you are interested in oral supplements consult your physician. As a report of the American Cancer Society points out, the effect of supplements on cancer tumors and interactions with medication leaves many still unanswered questions. Talk to your physician. The National Cancer Institute provides information on antioxidants under investigation in clinical trials.

Traditional antioxidants:

Vitamin C: Red pepper, yellow pepper, strawberries, oranges lemons, cantaloupes, cauliflower. Information on the connection to vitamin C and cancer is provided at the Linus Pauling Institute.

Vitamin E: Prevents the oxidation of fat and Vitamin A. It is thought to prevent prostrate and breast cancer. Sources of vitamin E include nuts, avocados, mangoes and sweet potatoes. See the National Cancer Institute site for information on the SELECT trial, (Selenium and Vitamin E trial) which studied the effect of these supplements on prostate cancer.

Beta carotene:Found naturally in foods such as cantaloupe, mangoes, papaya, pumpkin, peppers, spinach, kale, squash, sweet potatoes, and apricots. Note that the results of a clinical trial showed that beta carotene supplements should be avoided by smokers. See the National Cancer Institute for more information.

Selenium: Naturally found in seafood, beef, pork, chicken, Brazil nuts, brown rice, and whole wheat bread. Selenium studies show its importance in fighting prostate cancer, per a study by the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

Antioxidants Being Studied:

Flavonoids: Found in brewed tea. Flavonoids are also found in dark chocolate. An interesting clinical trial on dark chocolate is found on WebMD. Studies are now showing the impact on flavonoids in various types of cancer, such as prostrate and ovarian cancer as noted at ScienceDaily.

Lycopene: Found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. For more information on lycopene and cancer see the Mayo Clinic site or Lycopene and Health.

Phytochemicals: Found in blueberries, strawberries and cranberries, phytochemicals are now linked to a positive impact on certain cancers such as colon cancer and liver cancer. The Daily Mail, shares a recent study at Rutgers University on blueberries. NutraUSA shares a similar study with promise for liver cancer.

Recommended daily amounts of vitamins, and minerals are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture library. They include a series of reports “on the dietary reference values for the intake of nutrients by Americans and Canadians.”

Battling Books:

The Super Antioxidant Diet and Nutrition Guide: a Health Plan for the Body, Mind and Spirit by Robin Jeep, Richard B. Couey, and Sherie Ellington Pitman (February 2008)

Antioxidants Against Cancer by Ralph W. Moss (2000)

Additional information is available in our archives:

The Relationship Between Cancer and Antioxidants

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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