Antioxidants, Small But Mighty

jessi-mainBy Jessi McLennan
Published: July 1, 2013


You may be unaware of the small war that is being fought within your body every second of the day. On the good side we have antioxidants, and on the bad side we have free radicals.

Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can cause a lot of damage to cellular tissue and are thought to be a contributing factor to numerous health problems including heart disease, premature aging and certain forms of cancer.

Antioxidants are a group of vitamins, minerals, nutrients and other compounds that counteract the damage caused by free radicals and studies show that populations that consume a diet high in antioxidants develop less disease and health problems.

Certain types of sports and physical activity including cycling, running, soccer and hockey are associated with an increased production of free radicals.

Therefore, it is very important that anyone participating in these types of sports, especially endurance sports and events like the GranFondo, Iron man, Test of Metal and Triathlons are aware of the increased need for antioxidants.

You can find antioxidant products just about anywhere these days; they are added to water, juices, sports gels and bars.

You will also find hundreds of different antioxidant supplements at health food stores and sports store.

These supplements may have their place, but it is important to consult with a natural health expert or G.P to choose the right antioxidants, as even ‘natural supplements’ like vitamin C (a potent antioxidant) can have adverse health effect if used incorrectly.

Supplemental forms of antioxidants, while taken to improve health, may even have the opposite effect.

One very important study trying to show the benefit of supplementing smokers with beta-carotene (another potent antioxidant that is converted into vitamin A in the body) actually had to be stopped early as the group taking the supplements started developing lung cancer earlier and at a greater rate compared to the group who did not take the supplements.

However, on the flipside, smoker whose diet is high in beta-carotene (naturally found in fruits and vegetables) have a decreased risk (albeit small) of developing lung cancer compared to smokers who obtain little beta-carotene from their diet.

This suggests that the safest way to gain the protective health benefits of antioxidants is to make sure you are eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens). Other foods that contain an abundance of antioxidants include nuts, seed, legumes and whole grains.

(Jessi McLennan is the founder of Origins Nutrition, and can be contacted at