Fueling your body with high levels of antioxidants may not be enough to save your brain from disease like dementia
What? This seems to fly in the face of the message we have been getting about antioxidants.
The term “antioxidant” is commonly used as if it is a thing, like salmon, flax, mussels etc all contain an ingredient or component we call an antioxidant. By thinking of antioxidants as a noun it is easy to come to the conclusion all antioxidants are the same and therefore one should ingest as much of them as possible.
In the Neurology study quoted above, one of the research scientists, Elizabeth Devore, ScD makes the point that it is the specificity of the antioxidants as opposed to the overall level that matters.
To make sense of this, I am going to draw from an excellent overview, “Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype” provided by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Here is a summary of the key points.
Free Radicals are the natural byproduct of turning food into energy. The problem is that free radicals steal electrons from nearby substances and undermine that substance’s normal functioning. The key is that free radicals come in many shapes, sizes and chemical configurations.
An Antioxidant is not a substance but rather a chemical property – namely the ability to readily give up electrons and prevent free radicals from stealing them from part of our body. Antioxidants are not interchangeable. Each is chemically unique and therefore uniquely capable of dealing with certain free radicals.
So just ingesting high levels of antioxidants from a narrow range of sources will not get the job done. Rather, the goal should be to eat a diverse array of foods that have antioxidant properties.