Antioxidants are substances that inactivate free radicals, highly unstable molecules that can damage cell membranes and scramble the genetic information (DNA) in cells. Free radicals are produced in the body during normal cell metabolism, and at a higher rate following tissue injury or exposure to tobacco smoke, sunlight, X rays, and other environmental influences. To fight these dangerous chemicals, the body deploys a powerful antioxidant defense system, but it is hypothesized that in some cases the quantity of free radicals may overwhelm the body's natural defenses. This in turn could theoretically accelerate or cause various illnesses.
The “antioxidant hypothesis” states that herbs and supplements with antioxidant properties may prevent illnesses and health problems associated with excess free-radical activity. For example, the conditions
What is the reason for this discrepancy? It is possible that studies have not involved the right combinations of antioxidants. It is also possible that the antioxidant hypothesis is wrong.
For more information, see the individual articles on the antioxidant nutrients noted above.
1. Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud LL, et al. Mortality in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements for primary and secondary prevention: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA . 2007;297:842-57.
5. Bleys J, Miller ER 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, et al. Vitamin-mineral supplementation and then progression of atherosclerosis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;84:880-887,954-955.
6. Bardia A, Tleyjeh IM, Cerhan JR et al. Efficacy of antioxidant supplementation in reducing primary cancer incidence and mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2008;83:23-34.
7. Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud LL, Simonetti RG, Gluud C. Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(2):CD007176.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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