After reading many articles about the numerous health benefits of consuming all sorts of foods with antioxidants, I’m curious about the effectiveness of antioxidants as a treatment against diseases caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are substances that are believed to play a large role in protecting cells from the damage of free radicals, which can be introduced to the body through environmental factors or formed from the digestion of food. Free radicals cause cell dysfunction, heart disease, diabetes, as well as many types of cancer. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from doing so and are also believed to be crucial in improving immune function and lowering the risk of cancer and infection. They can be found in many foods (including fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, some meats, poultry and fish) in the form of beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E. An example of antioxidants at work is how apple slices will not brown if they are dipped in orange juice, which has vitamin C.
Although it has been firmly established that antioxidants are important for the prevention of diseases and health problems, I’d like to know more about the effectiveness of antioxidants as treatments for the diseases they apparently protect against. I recently read an article about a supplement containing many antioxidants that were extremely effective in helping old rats “maintain youthful levels of activity”. I wonder if the antioxidants helped resolve any health problems the rats might have developed. Are there any side effects from consuming too many antioxidants? I know vitamin A and E are fat soluble vitamins that can have toxic effects in large amounts; are there side effects for other types of antioxidants? Also, since antioxidants can be easily found in most foods, why are there so many health problems afflicting our society (and not just those who eat unhealthily)? If antioxidants are useful for treating diseases, are certain antioxidants only effective in treating certain illnesses? I hope to learn more about the possible use of antioxidants as treatments for illnesses and the mechanisms behind the free-radical fighting abilities of antioxidants.