THE ANTIOXIDANT CONUNDRUM
You’ve got some vitamin C on the kitchen counter next to the bananas.
Probably because vitamin C is an antioxident. Everybody knows antioxidants are good for you because they keep “free radicals” (which can promote cancer) in check.
Oxygen is an aggressive chemical. It can turn an iron bar into a hunk of rust. Most living things take advantage of oxygen’s “reactivity” by sucking energy out of the air. It’s why we have lungs. How living organisms learned to “handle” air without being eaten alive by it is one of the great back stories of evolution. Our cells have built in antioxidant “fire extinguishers” designed to protect us from toxic chemical reactions with oxygen.
But why don’t studies support the use of antioxidants?. In FACT, why do antioxidants often seem to make things worse?
Dr. David Tuveson ( Director of Research for the Lustgarten Foundation), and Dr. Navdeep S. Chandel (Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University) did a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. Here’s what they found.
Small amounts of oxidants are needed in the cells. The cell actually creates them. If the level of oxidants gets too high though, they become a cancer threat and have to be countered. Evolution came up with its own way to handle this problem. In the mitochondria (energy center) of the cells, where the danger lies, natural antioxidants keep things under control.
The problem with supplements such as Vitamins C, E, and A is that they don’t appear to get the antioxidants to the mitochondria. Instead, they show up all over the place, doing no particular good and maybe even causing undesirable effects.
Tuveson and Chandel think we could figure out better ways to control the levels of “reactive oxygen species” in our cells. With more research, we might come up with a pill that actually does something useful instead of confusing people.
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The drawing is mine.