A 2015 consumer survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) found that a majority of the respondents felt that their doctors were a “trusted source for reliable information” on dietary supplements.
This means that they turned to this set of health professionals for information about which types of supplements they should take, how they could help their individual conditions, and any other questions they had on the vitamins and herbs that could potentially enhance the quality of their lives.
So what do you as a DC need to know about antioxidants to better guide your patients as to whether these are the right supplements for them? The first step involves learning exactly what antioxidants are.
What antioxidants are
“Antioxidants are substances found in plants that can help fight off the deterioration of the cells,” says Ron Ledoux, DC and Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) with Back to Life Natural Health Center. “They have a protective effect on the body and are the best way to fight oxidative, free radical damage to the body and boost your health.”
What’s oxidative, free radical damage?
“Technically it’s when a molecule is missing an electron—the molecule is called a free radical—and steals it from the nearest molecule which then steals one from the next molecule and so on, resulting in the break-down of a cell,” says Ledoux. “When the cells break down, it causes any number of things, including signs of aging like wrinkles or poor health of any organ like the skin, brain, or liver.”
If you’re stuck on how to convey this complex process to patients, Ledoux provides a few examples that can help you better explain what happens. For instance, you can share with them how “oxidation is best shown in the examples of a fresh cut apple turning brown, metal getting rusty, or a copper penny turning green,” says Ledoux. “It’s a break-down of the molecules in the cells.” In essence, our bodies go through a similar process, which puts us at risk for various health-related conditions and diseases.
For example, “Free radical/oxidative stress is suspected to be an underlying cause of cancer,” says Ledoux. “When a body is under oxidative stress, the immune system as well as any system in the body can be compromised.” This is where taking antioxidants can oftentimes help.
Antioxidants benefits for your patients
“You can’t stop the aging process,” says Ledoux, “but with a good intake of antioxidants through diet and supplementation you can definitely slow down the process.” This is especially true as every one of us is exposed to some type of oxidative stress on a daily basis.
Case in point: “Some of the major causes of oxidative stress are smoking and pollution; alcohol and drugs; unhealthy foods that contain preservatives, pesticides, unhealthy oils, or even too much protein or sugar; and viruses or infections that lead to an unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut,” explains Ledoux.
“Stress is another important factor when it comes to oxidation,” says Ledoux. “Have you ever seen or heard of someone looking like they aged 10 years when they went through a very stressful situation such as the death of a loved one or going through a divorce?” That’s oxidative stress in action.
All in all, health and lifestyle factors such as these impact a person on a cellular level. They also impact how many antioxidants a person should take to help undo the damage, says Ledoux.
Antioxidants to consider
As far as which antioxidants are the best to take, Ledoux explains that they “work synergistically, so there isn’t one that is more beneficial than the other.” That being said, if you want to make a recommendation to your patients, the top ones that Ledoux suggests are “vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene, but zinc and selenium are also high on the list, as is astaxanthin.”
If you’re unfamiliar with astaxanthin, an article published in Marine Drugs explains that it is an anti-inflammatory “xanthophyll carotenoid present in microalgae, fungi, complex plants, seafood, flamingos and quail” which has been found to have positive effects when administered prior to cardiac events.
Because there is no one food which contains all of these antioxidants, “Having a good multi-antioxidant and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best way to go,” says Ledoux. That way, you can be assured that your patients are getting all of the antioxidants they need for maximal health.