The main antioxidant nutrients are Vitamins A, C and E and selenium. Antioxidants have been shown to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Taming the free radicals
As you go about your daily life, your body produces free radicals from the oxygen in your bloodstream, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol causes a build up of fat in the arteries (this process is called atherosclerosis). Antioxidants deactivate these free radicals and thus help protect against heart disease as well as some cancers.
beta-carotene on its own has been shown to increase the likelihood of death by lung cancer in smokers.However, the most recent research shows that taking beta-carotene in combination with the other antioxidants is helpful, reducing lung cancer risk by 16% (Wright ME, Mayne ST, et al. Am J Epidemiol 2004 Jul 1;160(1):68-76.)>
Fighting the Big C
Studies have shown that diets high in antioxidants (eg. the Mediterranean diet with its high proportion of fruit and vegetables) have a protective effect against many forms of cancer, as well as heart disease. However, in spite of extensive studies, there is some dispute whether antioxidant supplements have the same results.
It’s possible that to work effectively, antioxidants require other co-factors, present naturally in the foods that contain them, and that this is why antioxidant-rich diets may work better in some cases than supplements. In any event, it seems that the standard advice about eating a balanced diet that contains a high proportion of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts holds true here as well.
The one exception (about which there is little dispute concerning supplementation) is Selenium, an essential trace mineral which is an important part of the antioxidant enzymes that protect cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Several studies show that people with low intake levels of selenium have an increased risk of heart complaints and cancer.
Unfortunately, Selenium is quite difficult to get from most food, certainly in the UK, as this is mostly produced in areas with very low soil concentrations. You can obtain useful quantities from fish, shellfish and some brazil nuts, but if you don’t eat these foods very often, a supplement may be a good idea, especially if you are in one of the groups at risk.
I offer Selenium ACE tablets in my online shop.