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Assembling an All-Star Antioxidant Team

Even if you take a daily multivitamin, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and pop extra vitamin C, you may not be getting enough antioxidants. Experts have increasingly come to recognize the value of taking a synergistic blend of these cancer-fighting, health-promoting nutrients. Here is a rundown of major antioxidants that you should consider for your daily cocktail.

BEST ALL-AROUND BETS
For a good, all-around antioxidant boost everyone can benefit from daily vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.

Vitamin C
What It Does
May protect against GI cancers, cataracts, and heart disease; lessens severity of colds. Recycles vitamin E.

Where It's Found
Fruits and vegetables (e.g., strawberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, dark leafy greens, red peppers).

Suggested Dose
500 to 1,000 mg a day, with food.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E comes in two forms: tocopherols (the most common form of the vitamin) and tocotrienols. If you take a vitamin E supplement, it's likely you're getting tocopherols. Less is known about tocotrienols; research is ongoing.

What It Does
Tocopherols may protect against heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and certain cancers; they may also enhance immunity. Tocotrienols may fight heart disease and breast cancer; they may also protect skin against UV rays.

Where It's Found
Tocopherols: Nuts and vegetable oils have a small amount. Tocotrienols: Rice bran. Supplements are needed to supply a therapeutic dose of these compounds.

Suggested Dose
Tocopherols: 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E a day, preferably as mixed tocopherols; take with food. If you opt also to take tocotrienols, take 100 mg a day with food that contains a little fat.

Selenium
What It Does
Protects against cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Assists other antioxidants.

Where It's Found
Brazil nuts, grains, vegetables (selenium content varies depending on the soil produce is grown in).

Suggested Dose
100 to 200 mcg a day; avoid higher daily doses, which may be toxic. Take with or without food.

ANTIOXIDANTS TO START IN YOUR FORTIES
If you're concerned about taking too many pills, you can probably hold off on coenzyme Q10 and alpha-lipoic acid until your forties or fifties. In older age, the body's production of these substances starts to decline.

Coenzyme Q10
What It Does
May fight cancer (studies on breast tumors are under way) and heart disease; strengthens gums; protects nerves; helps generate energy.

Where It's Found
Present in all cells of the body, especially in the heart. Also found in nuts and oils, but supplements are required to get a therapeutic dose.

Suggested Dose
30 mg a day with food. CoQ10 is particularly important for anyone who has heart disease. In addition, anyone taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Mevacor (lovastatin), Lipitor (atorvastatin), or Zocor (simvastatin) or the cholesterol-fighting herb red yeast rice should take CoQ10, because these substances deplete the body's store of the coenzyme.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid
What It Does
May protect against heart disease, cataracts, stroke, cancer, and diabetes-related nerve damage. May boost glutathione levels.

Where It's Found
Found in tiny amounts in some foods (e.g., spinach, beef, potatoes).

Suggested Dose
100 mg a day with food. For people with diabetes, 200 mg three times a day.

ANTIOXIDANTS THAT MAY ALSO BE BENEFICIAL
Additional antioxidants that may be worth including in your antioxidant mix--depending on individual health concerns--are carotenoids, ginkgo biloba, and proanthocyanidins. Glutathione, an amino-acidlike antioxidant, is very important for immunity and proper liver function, but don't worry about getting glutathione in supplement form; it's not well absorbed by the body. Taking other antioxidants boosts your body's natural production of glutathione.

Carotenoids
What They Do
May lower your risk of certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Where They're Found
Orange and red fruits and vegetables; dark green vegetables. Smokers and ex-smokers should avoid beta-carotene (and probably other carotenoid) supplements because high levels have been linked to an increased risk for lung cancer.

Suggested Dose
If diet is lacking in fruits and vegetables: Take mixed carotenoids supplying 25,000 IU of vitamin A activity a day with food.

Ginkgo Biloba
What It Does
Improves circulation; may fight heart disease, Alzheimer's, impotence.

Where It's Found
Extracted from the leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree.

Suggested Dose
30 to 60 mg, once or twice a day, with or without food.

Proanthocyanidins
What It Does
Boosts body's production of vitamins C and E and glutathione.

Where It's Found
Extracted from grape seeds or pine bark (Pycnogenol).

Suggested Dose
100 to 200 mg a day, with or without food.

Glutathione
What It Does
Enhances immune function. Recycles vitamin C.

Where It's Found
Produced in the body from protein found in food.

Suggested Dose
Glutathione supplements aren't recommended because they're not well absorbed.

Additional information (links)

For further information on specific antioxidants, see our individual library entries on vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, carotenoids, ginkgo biloba, proanthocyanadins, and glutathione.


Date Published: 09/30/2002
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