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Antioxidant supplements – do you need them?

19 March, 2020

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that can help fight damaging free radicals in your body. Your body produces free radicals in response to the environment, stress and pressure. Examples include when you exercise, digest food or are exposed to air pollution. They include some vitamins like C, A and E.

Not all free radicals are damaging, and some are even used to attack viruses or bacteria to protect us from harm. However, others can damage cells and contribute to conditions such as heart disease and some cancers.

A diet high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of many diseases simply by mopping up damaging free radicals circulating in the blood stream. For example, men who eat a lot of lycopene (an antioxidant found in tomatoes) may be less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Should you get antioxidants from food or take supplements?

It’s best to get all your nutrients, including antioxidants, from your food rather than from supplements. Taking a supplement won’t make you healthy. There are so many components of food we are still yet to understand that contribute to better health.

Eating a wide variety of vegetables and fruits can help to ensure you get a diverse range of antioxidants to optimize your health.

You can get the following antioxidants from these food sources:

  • Vitamin A – liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk and egg yolks
  • Vitamin C – Brocolli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower
  • Vitamin E – Almonds, avocado, leafy greens
  • Carotenoids – Apricots, asparagus, broccoli
  • Zinc – Beef, oysters, pumpkin seeds
  • Selenium – Brazil nuts, fish, shellfish

The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline the types of foods you should be eating to reduce your risk of diet-related conditions and chronic diseases.  

In some cases, your doctor may recommend you take antioxidant supplements if your diet is inadequate.

What happens if you take too many antioxidant supplements?

If you take antioxidant supplements in high doses, you could damage your body.

Some antioxidant supplements may:

  1. 1. Reduce your exercise performance

    Taking too many antioxidant supplements, especially vitamins C and E can interfere with how your body adapts to exercise and even reduce some of the health benefits of exercise.

  2. 2. Increase your risk for some cancers

    Several research studies have shown that taking antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene doesn’t reduce the risk of getting many types of cancer. It also doesn’t reduce the risk of dying from cancer. Studies have even shown that antioxidant supplements may even increase the risk of certain cancers. Some can interfere with cancer treatment medications and therapies so check with your Dr before you start taking any.

  3. 3. Cause birth defects

Some antioxidants supplements such as Vitamin A may even increase the risk of birth defects if taken in high doses. If you are pregnant, always check with your Dr before you start any regular supplements.

More information

Antioxidants – Better Health Channel


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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