Antioxidants Reconsidered

Nutrition science has firmly established that fruits and vegetables are good for us – study after study confirms that people who eat five to nine servings daily enjoy better health than those who eat fewer servings.

Further, decades of investigation have revealed what appears to be the main reason fruits and vegetables are so healthful: they contain vital antioxidants.

We need antioxidants because everyday metabolism – that is, the process of cells turning food and oxygen into energy – creates destructive molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS). Our bodies create ROS even faster when we’re stressed by, for example, tobacco smoke, radiation or certain drugs.¬† These ROS damage biological molecules by pulling electrons from them. This is called “oxidative stress,” and is similar to the chemical reaction that makes iron rust.

Normal ROS production is thought to be a major contributor to normal aging. Accelerated ROS production appears to underlie accelerated aging, at least under certain circumstances. That may explain why tobacco smokers, for example, often exhibit premature wrinkling of the skin and greater susceptibility to early onset of the “diseases of aging” than non-smokers. The risk of many diseases, from Alzheimer’s disease to cardiovascular conditions to many cancers, appears to rise along with the body’s average ROS level.

As the name suggests, antioxidants – nutrients such as vitamins C and E, selenium, mixed carotenes and dozens more – counter oxidative stress. That’s why we need dietary antioxidants every day.

However, as part of a wholesale re-imagining of the Weil Vitamin Advisor, I along with my scientific advisory team have decided to suspend offering the separate antioxidant formula supplement. Instead, we’re including antioxidants such as vitamin C and selenium in the multivitamins that are now part of the Advisor’s core recommendations. This allows us to lower the total number of supplements in a typical recommendation, which makes taking them daily more convenient and comfortable.

While taking supplements to reduce oxidative stress has value, the new Weil Vitamin Advisor has also been reconfigured to focus on reducing inappropriate levels of whole-body inflammation. In simple terms, inflammation is the body’s attempt at self-protection from injury or infection – we’ve all seen it as redness or swelling around a cut or bruise. But when inflammation spreads too far or lasts too long, it can cause damage in its own right, and raise the risk of disease. Modern life – characterized by processed foods, stress and sedentary lifestyles – has, unfortunately, made inappropriate levels of inflammation quite common. I have spoken about the role of inflammation in modern health in my books and it was the underlying reasons I developed the Anti-Inflammatory Diet Pyramid.

The new Weil Vitamin Advisor features supplements such as Turmeric Plus, a blend of herbs and vitamin C, designed to maintain a healthy inflammatory response.

This shift in focus is subtle. Any biochemist will tell you that oxidative stress and inflammation are related, and keeping both within an appropriate range is fundamental to maintaining good health. But I am persuaded that this small change makes the valuable, health-supporting service offered by the Weil Vitamin Advisor even better.

Updated by: Andrew Weil, M.D., and Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., on February 14th, 2014.

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