Antioxidants have come in for another critical mauling as widely reported in the mainstream press. Normally such criticism is directed solely at antioxidant supplements, but what is not clear is whether the latest ‘negativity’ extends to typical antioxidant foods such as Broccoli (surely not I hear some of you cry!).
“Nobel laureate James Watson claims antioxidants in late-stage cancers can promote cancer progression” runs the introduction on the Royal Society web page (link below). For a start this is (of course) a very delicate and emotive condition that Mr Watson has chosen to address. I don’t think anyone (or any reputable business) would be so dramatic to claim that antioxidants, whether in food or supplement form, can make a noticeable difference to someone sadly so ill.
If one was arguing for Dr Watson there is a school of thought that considers antioxidants as protective nutrients could protect cancer cells. But this fails to acknowledge natural apoptotic mechanisms (a type of cell death) that are stimulated by antioxidant nutrients such a curcumin, and redifferentiators such as lycopene (a carotenoid antioxidant found in tomatoes). When a cell becomes cancerous or changes in any way it is said to “differentiate”, when it returns to normal structure and function it “redifferentiates”. A redifferentiator is a substance that has the ablility to help cells return to normal from abnormal.
These are examples of “antioxidants” that have a deleterious effect (causing harm or damage) on cancer cells but are sparing to healthy cells – so perhaps one could conclude from this that the body is an intelligent entity and will be able to overcome most disease given the right nutrients in the correct biological form for use? In addition one could argue that you cannot generalise about certain antioxidants sparing (or enhancing) cancer cells when some antioxidants are specifically targeted at destroying cells that have become cancerous.
The topic of antioxidants seems to attract two very opposing public stances. What is intriguing here is whether it is being suggested that antioxidant rich foods (or indeed supplements) are not really helpful to good general health throughout one’s life – as opposed to a diet of cheese burgers for example?
I include two further links below – to the story being reported in both the Daily Mail and the Guardian. The gist of the media argument seems to be that antioxidants have been cynically over-hyped of late (‘Super Foods!) and that certain research indicates that antioxidant supplements have no long-term beneficial effect on health, or even in some cases a detrimental effect.
The difficulty for the public is, yet again, how to make an informed and educated decision as to what they eat or supplement with. Research is only as effective as its scope of reference – and there is a huge body of research weighed in favour of the beneficial effects of antioxidants in general.
A very brief refresh on Antioxidants – They are nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that may protect and repair cells from damage caused by ‘free radicals’. Many experts believe fighting ‘free radical’ damage is essential to help prevent chronic diseases and helps boost the immune system. Antioxidants are almost exclusively associated with Fruit and Vegetables. So for example foods rich in Beta- Carotene, Vitamins C & E such as apricots, carrots, berries, broccoli, peppers, etc. etc. The minerals Zinc (found in nuts, oysters, red meat etc.) and Selenium (found in Brazil Nuts, beef etc.) are also good antioxidant sources.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter – you can post a comment below or on our Facebook page (link on the right). It seems a ‘no brainer’ to me – healthy eating with lots of varied fruit and vegetables for a wide range of natural and essential nutrients. These foods are naturally rich in antioxidants – is the Governments ‘5-a-day’ campaign misplaced!
And finally dependant on each individual’s nutritional intake and general health you may wish to consider supplementing with an appropriate vitamin and/or mineral and/or antioxidant supplement – based on some good advice.
I will blog more about antioxidants in the near future covering related topics such as ‘flavonoids’, ‘carotenoids’ and the ‘ORAC’ score amongst many interesting and related subjects.