How to Increase Your Intake of Antioxidants
To increase your intake of antioxidants, some experts — and common sense — say to get them from a variety of natural sources as part of a normal diet.
But with no intake guidelines and scant nutritional information available about antioxidants, what does this rule of thumb mean?
After all, one person’s idea of a healthy diet is often much different than the next person’s.
As you probably know, antioxidants are chemicals that scavenge free radicals in your body that damage cells in a variety of ways.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” — Benjamin Franklin
But scientists and doctors will warn you that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. And excessive intake of antioxidants can be counterproductive.
Furthermore, there’s a lack of scientific evidence supporting many of the health claims of antioxidant proponents.
Few would argue, however, that eating a diet rich in a wide variety of healthy plants does more harm than good. And, for the most part, antioxidants come from these sources. In other words, eating a diet full of healthy plants will likely be your primary approach.
However, you may choose to be more deliberate in your approach, complementing your healthy diet with additional foods, beverages, and supplements based on their antioxidant profile.
Complicating matters, there are thousands of antioxidants. And researchers continue to discover new ones while many of those already discovered are not fully understood.
Furthermore, waiting for well-designed studies to elucidate the unknown benefits (and risks) of antioxidants in a system that rewards expensive, patent-protected treatments to diseases is unlikely a viable strategy.
So how do you make sense of antioxidants and take a common-sense approach that increases your likelihood of enjoying a long and healthy life?
For starters, it helps to understand what the different types of and sources of antioxidants are so that you can make smart, informed decisions about what you put in your body.
And trying to make sense of it all in an independent and objective way is the goal of this article.
Categories of Antioxidants
There are different ways to categorize antioxidants. And, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on three different ways to categorize them:
Some antioxidants are water soluble with others are fat soluble, which affects where in your body they are active and how long they stay in your system.
Enzymatic vs. Non-Enzymatic Antioxidants
Enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants serve the same general purpose of neutralizing harmful free radicals but do so through different mechanisms.
RNS vs. ROS Antioxidants
Reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) are both types of free radicals and reactive molecules that can cause oxidative stress and damage to cells. Antioxidants targeting each have specific roles in mitigating these effects.
While both ROS and RNS can damage cells, they do so in slightly different ways and in different locations within the cell. Also, the body uses different antioxidant systems to neutralize each. Some antioxidants are versatile and can neutralize both ROS and RNS, while others are more specialized.
Water-Soluble vs. Fat-Soluble Antioxidants
Water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants differ in their solubility, which impacts where they act within the body and how they are stored and eliminated.
Both types of antioxidants are crucial for protecting different parts of the cell and complement each other in the body’s overall antioxidant defense system.
No Two Antioxidants Work the Same
You might be wondering whether two antioxidants that are from the same categories — for example, two antioxidants that are both non-enzymatic, reactive oxygen species, and water soluble — would have similar effects in the body.
The answer is that they will usually differ considerably. For example, while water-soluble antioxidants that target reactive oxygen species (ROS) may share some general characteristics, they can still have distinct biological functions, mechanisms of action, bioavailability, and interactions with other molecules and physiological systems. Here’s why two antioxidants in the same category could still be quite different:
So, even within a group defined by solubility and target species, antioxidants can be quite different in terms of their biological activity, health benefits, and potential risks.
Examples of Antioxidants
To provide straightforward breakdown, the following sections divides antioxidants into three categories:
1. Enzymatic antioxidants
2. Fat-soluble non-enzymatic antioxidants
3. Water-soluble non-enzymatic antioxidants