Antioxidant Supplements FAQ
What is an Antioxidant?
Antioxidant is a term used to describe any molecule that prevents of inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. When a molecule is oxidized it loses hydrogen or electrons, and as a result of this free radicals are sometimes created.
Free radicals can then go on to affect other cells in the surrounding area of the body, potentially causing a chain reaction of cell damage and even death.
Over many years of exposure to dietary and environmental toxins, our bodies are bombarded with oxidative damage caused by free radicals, putting us at increased risk of life-threatening diseases and illnesses such as cancer.
Antioxidants, which are typically made from plant extracts, are used in an attempt to reduce the amount of oxidative damage our bodies are subjected to.
Production of Antioxidants
To go into the production or extraction process of every antioxidant currently available on the market would fill up a few books, so in the interest of brevity let us say that they are extracted from plant matter.
There are some antioxidants, such as ascorbic acid (more commonly known as Vitamin C), which can be produced or synthesized by artificial means.
Keep reading as we will explore the various types of antioxidants below, as well as which ones are most relevant to your needs based on the benefits they can offer.
What Types of Antioxidants are There?
Before moving on, let’s take a look at some of the antioxidants that are most commonly found in the human body:
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin E (tocopherols)
This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination because there are countless foods and supplements that contain a whole array of antioxidants – for example, acai berry, cinnamon, green tea, cocoa, and many more.
We will look at dietary sources of antioxidants in a moment so keep reading and we’ll get to that below.
We are concerned primarily with of these substances application as a dietary supplement so we won’t delve too deeply into the science and mechanism behind each one.
Melatonin is typically used as a sleep aid in higher doses and an alternative to antidepressants in lower doses, but given that you are reading an Antioxidant FAQ it is probably safe to say that you aren’t looking for these kinds of benefits.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are of particular interest because of the protection they offer cells against free radical damage, as we will see below.
How do Antioxidants Work and What are the Benefits?
Simply put, antioxidants work by protecting our cells from toxins, or more precisely, the oxidative or free radical damage that can occur due to our exposure to toxic substances in our diet and environment.
This can cover everything from the pollution in our air to the contaminants in our water and the pesticides in our food, and without us taking the necessary protective measures these substances can certainly take their toll on our long-term health.
Vitamin C is an essential cofactor in processes throughout the body, especially enzymatic reactions, as well as playing a pivotal role in our body’s ability to heal wounds and prevent bleeding.
As we have already established, Vitamin C can also protect against oxidative damage in the body, but it is also being linked to a reduction in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
It’s also worth mentioning that Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, which means that if you consume an excessive amount it will simply be shunted to the kidneys and bladder to be excreted in your urine.
This is not to say that you should be eating spoonfuls of Vitamin C powder, but daily doses as high as 1 – 4g definitely have a great deal of relevance in the context of high-intensity, high-frequency bodybuilding training where accumulate stress and fatigue can occur.
Vitamin E is another potent antioxidant, particularly in its alpha-tocopherol form, but this Vitamin is fat-soluble so you will want to ensure you take it alongside some dietary fat to ensure your body has what it needs to fully absorb and utilize it.
Related: Top Fish Oil Pills
Who Can Benefit from Using Antioxidants and How?
Every single human being could stand to benefit from using antioxidants because our environment is becoming increasingly polluted, our food supply is crammed full of pesticides and heavens only knows what else, and our stress levels are ever-increasingly in our fast-paced culture.
Having said that, we can see how antioxidants may play a crucial role in enhancing recovery for hard-training bodybuilders and athletes, especially given the extra demands being placed on our bodies on an almost daily basis.
Intense bodybuilding training, and especially training to muscular failure, can illicit the release of metabolites and other waste products from our muscles.
These metabolites can, in and of themselves, cause the very free radical damage that we so fear, so taking some form of antioxidant is definitely going to provide some extra added insurance against any oxidative stress that may occur.
Do Any Foods Contain Antioxidants?
The Oxygen radical absorbance capacity or ORAC scale was devised as a method of determining the antioxidant capacity of certain substances, and it has enabled us to see which foods are capable of offering the greatest protection.
Here are some foods that score particularly high on the ORAC scale:
- Berries (especially Cranberries and Blueberries)
- Red Kidney Bean
- Artichoke Hearts
- Green Tea
- Cocoa Powder
It is also worth nothing that pretty much every fruit and vegetable offers some degree of antioxidant content, and some items that score particuarlly high on the ORAC scale may not be accessible to you due to budget, and regional or seasonal scarcity.
If this is a concern of yours then it would be wise to opt for foods that you can consume on a consistent basis; foods that are both enjoyable and affordable to you.
Please be aware that studies have demonstrated how boiling vegetables can actually reduce their ORAC rating by as much as 90%, so steaming tends to be a far superior method of cooking.
Do Antioxidants Have Any Side Effects?
Currently being studied is the potential for antioxidants to actually have a pro-oxidant effect in the body.
One example of this is Vitamin C – it can reduce oxidizing substances but at the same time it can also lead to a reduction in metal ions and thereby indirectly promote oxidative stress in the body.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that pro-oxidant activity in the body can actually promote health and wellbeing. As mentioned, this is open to further study because the science is currently unclear.
For the time being it is safe to say that Vitamin C and other antioxidants are well worth using, but keep an open mind as to their future relevance and application to our health and training recovery.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
Do I Really Need to Use an Antioxidant Supplement?
These products are not absolutely necessary in promoting overall health and wellbeing, but antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E are so cheap that including them in your daily supplement regimen really is a no-brainer.
Flu season is also a great time to dose up on these kinds of supplements as they will help to give you the immune support your body needs to stave off any potential illness.
What’s more, times in your life when you are subjected to high levels of stress, be it for financial, emotional, or any other reasons, are a great time to use antioxidant supplements, especially Vitamin C which has can help your body to more effectively regulate its cortisol levels.
How and When Should I Use Antioxidants?
Given what we have just established regarding the potential pro-oxidant activity of antioxidants, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to the letter on any antioxidant supplement you use.
There appears to be nothing wrong with taking high doses of a supplement such as Vitamin C; however, you are always advised to consult your doctor or physician before using any supplement, especially if you are taking prescription medications or suffer from a pre-existing medical condition.
How Much Should I Use?
Refer to the usage guidelines on any product you purchase and speak to your doctor if you are unsure.
How to Pick a Good Antioxidant Supplement
There are many antioxidant compounds available on the market, and many of them are simple blends of plant and herb extracts, so it can be difficult to determine how they differ.
This author’s advice would be to go with what has been scientifically proven in controlled studies and primarily stick with the basics like Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
These two vitamins have been clearly demonstrated to provide antioxidant protection, and are certainly a surefire way of getting the most bang for your antioxidant buck
Having said that, you can bolster the benefits of these supplements by using greens powders and other plant-based extracts, and you should of course be including plenty of nutritionally-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet to ensure you are receiving a wide spectrum of antioxidants.
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.