I hope you all had a great 4th of July holiday!
Today my post is about free radicals and antioxidants–some facts I learned during my classes last semester in my MS program. Whether the post brings out new info, busts a misconception, or re-enforces something you already new, I hope you will find it beneficial in some way. I’m going to put them in bullets so they will be easier to follow.
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Free radicals are oxygen-containing compounds that attack healthy cells and cause their damage. It’s thought that free radicals cause cancers, while antioxidants fight them. Antioxidant vitamins and minerals are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium.
- While antioxidants slow down the growth of cancers in lab animals, clinical studies are a different story
For example, vitamin E did not prevent cancer in women over the age of 45, selenium and vitamin E supplements did not prevent prostate cancer in men, and vitamin C or vitamin E supplements did not reduce the risk of prostate or any type of cancer in middle aged or older men.
- In some cases, anti-oxidant supplements can cause more damage than benefit
This is the case of beta-carotene and smoking. Smoking causes damage, so antioxidants would help offset it. How could that hurt? Well, smokers who took beta-carotene supplements increased their risk of developing lung cancer than smokers who didn’t.
- Some free radicals in your body are beneficial
This was a difficult concept to digest and accept, but it’s true. Exercise increases the formation of free radicals, so you would think you need to ensure your body has some antioxidants to prevent damage. Not always. Exercise also improves insulin resistance which helps lower blood glucose level for people with diabetes. One study found that taking vitamin E and C supplements after exercise prevented the beneficial effect of exercise on diabetes. The authors concluded that somehow, free radicals have an important role in this case.
The other time free radicals are generated for a good reason is when white blood cells fight infections. I will not go into details of the biochemistry of it, but the immune system needs to form some free radicals from oxygen to kill bacteria, fungi, and other particles. If you want to read more about this, research “respiratory burst.”
I have three more points to make about free radicals and antioxidants, but I’m worried it will be too long of a post. I will save them for Wednesday.
Have a great day!