Are Antioxidants Good For You?
It is obvious to think that antioxidants are good for us. For years, a lot of research has gone into establishing the beneficial role of antioxidants in preventing cellular stress and damage, thereby reducing the risk of debilitating diseases like cancer. Antioxidant supplements have become very popular recently owing to their ability to prevent not only cancer but most of the aging related diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and also slowing down overall aging process. The way they do their job is by scavenging free radicals that our body continuously produces as a by product of metabolism. Free radicals are also generated due to stress, anxiety, pollutants, carcinogens in the atmosphere and a lot of other factors. However, the most pertinent question is “how much antioxidant is optimum for us?”
Is there a linear relationship between the amount of antioxidants we consume and the benefits we reap from them, or we just need to stay in the optimum zone, otherwise we may experience ‘antioxidant overdose’? Dr Oz discussed this issue in his recent show where he referred to some of the recent studies that questioned if too much antioxidants can be deleterious? Most of us probably would be able to identify ourselves with the guest on the show who brought her entire repertoire of supplements that filled up a big bag and she could not live without them because they make her feel ‘healthy’. Are we taking too much antioxidants to feel ‘healthy’? But, how much is too much?
Dr. Oz: Antioxidants Red Zone
Dr Jennifer Sachek, PhD (author of Thinner This Year Book) was a guest on the show who is a nutritional scientist and a researcher of antioxidants. She clarified that too much antioxidants can even cause cancer directly. She was more comfortable recommending antioxidants through food rather than through supplements in order to avoid the overdose.
Dr Oz mentioned the ‘Antioxidant red zone’. This is the limit beyond which these good fellows turn to become bad and start to show side effects. He picked up three major antioxidants that occur in our supplements – vitamin A, C and E. He along with Dr Sachek outlined the risks associated with mega doses of these vitamins.
- For vitamin A the limit is 10000 units, beyond which it may cause liver abnormalities,
- For vitamin C the limit should be 2000 milligrams, beyond which it can cause gastrointestinal distress
- For vitamin E staying below 1500 international units (IU) will prevent risk from abnormal blood clotting.
However, these are the upper limits and not the amount we should be aiming to have per day.
Antioxidants Safe Levels
Dr Oz and Dr Sachek discussed the safe level that would benefit us without running into the risk of side effects. Majority of us do not take these vitamins individually. On the contrary, we take them together as multivitamins. The recommended daily dose of:
- Vitamin A, if taken as part of multivitamins, would be 2500 – 3500 IU.
- Vitamin C the same range would be 60-100 milligrams per day.
- Vitamin E is safe between 20-50 IUs per day.
These amounts are the typical amounts found normally in multivitamins over the counter. If we tend to get more of these vitamins, staying in the grey zone between the minimum amount and maximum permissible amount would not be unsafe. However, it will add no extra value.
Dr Oz and Dr Sachek discussed foods, the most common source of these good vitamins and antioxidants and as Dr Sachek mentioned, foods have never been associated with vitamin toxicity or overdose because vitamins are natural ingredients of foods. Thus there is no upper limit, nevertheless, the optimum dose would be like “half an orange” for vitamin C. Cantaloupes are a good source of vitamin A. About half a cup would be enough for the daily requirement of this vitamin. For vitamin E, about half a cup of almonds would do the job. These are natural foods and there is no harm if one takes more of the recommended amount, even double that amount is not unsafe. However, for fortified foods the recommendation would be different. Dr Sachek personally feels that natural foods are so far the best sources of vitamins and fortified foods can come in as a secondary choice to the natural foods.
Dr. Oz: The Bottom Line?
Dr Oz really made it simple. We should still get the recommended dose of multivitamins as long as we are not going into the red zone. Most of us are still not getting enough of our required vitamins through foods. Thus, multivitamins are welcome, only as much as is required.