Antioxidants are compounds which act within the human body to stop oxidative damage to cell walls. These life-sustaining molecules occur naturally in the human diet and may help to prevent and treat several common conditions. Although there is no conclusive evidence to support the use of antioxidant vitamin supplements, roughly one in three Americans takes an antioxidant vitamin to promote overall health and well-being.
Only four miconutrients– including three vitamins and one mineral– have been proven to possess antioxidant properties. Nutritionists and alternative health care providers may use the acronym ACES as a mnemonic to for these four compounds: vitamin A as beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.
Also known as pro-vitamin A, beta-carotene possesses powerful antioxidant properties. Beta-carotene acts as a natural precursor to vitamin A, or retinol, which is essential for eye health and overall wellbeing. Some excellent sources of beta-carotene include carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes and peaches. Although the term “vitamin A” is often used in reference to beta-carotene, it is important to note that vitamin A itself possesses no antioxidant properties. Although the human body can eliminate excess beta-carotene with no serious side effects, retinoid forms of vitamin A can be toxic in large doses.
Best known for its popular (albeit controversial) use as an immune stimulant, vitamin C possesses powerful antioxidant properties. This micronutrient, also known as ascorbic acid, appears naturally in orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, spinach, cabbage, cress, parsley, honeydew and strawberries. Many processed foods and drinks are also fortified to contain extra vitamin C, which can protect food from oxidative damage and discoloration. Note that large doses of vitamin C supplements, exceeding 3 to 4 grams, may cause side effects such as diarrhea and nausea.
Vitamin E is perhaps the most critical vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, and most Americans do not get enough of it. This healthy, fat-soluble vitamin occurs naturally in nust, seeds, oils, wheat and certain fruits. Although most adults require roughly 15 IU of vitamin E each day, most Americans eat less than half of this amount. The most common form of vitamin E used in food is d-alpha tocopopherol, which is the subject of ongoing scientific investigation regarding its benefits and risks. Note that high doses of vitamin E can be harmful. Do not exceed 50 IU per day without your physician’s approval.
Although selenium is frequently classified as a vitamin, it is in fact a trace mineral. This antioxidant mineral may help to prevent the forms of oxidative damage associated with cancer, so health care providers frequently recommend it as an alternative therapy or preventative remedy for the disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, preliminary but inconclusive evidence supports the use of selenium supplements for preventing prostate, gastrointestinal, gynecological, lung, colorectal, and esophageal cancers. Consult your health care provider before using selenium if you have any medical condition.
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