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Can I get too much antioxidant?

Asked by Patricia Berkhousen, Spring Hill, Florida

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You said that one of the few supplements you take is fish oil. With all the buzz about the benefits of antioxidants today -- and the tenet that "too much of anything is not good" -- can you get "too much" antioxidant?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Patricia. Antioxidants are a hot topic lately, but you are absolutely correct in your assumption that "too much of anything is not good" when it comes to antioxidant supplements. While it is true that we are under more stress than ever when it comes to environmental insults that can cause free radicals, the compounds that antioxidants are designed to fight, current research suggests that taking supplemental antioxidants including vitamin E, vitamin A, beta carotene may actually increase your risk of disease or dying in some cases. In some cases, such as slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration (not preventing), the leading cause of blindness in Americans, antioxidants seem to be useful, but in many cases, they have shown no clinical benefit.

In addition, it is important to remember that no amount of antioxidants or supplements can undo the damage of an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, so for those who are considering these types of supplements to avoid adopting healthier lifestyle choices, that strategy will not work. Until we have more information, I recommend avoiding large doses of any single antioxidant and focusing instead on eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables which are naturally full of antioxidants and much harder to overdose on. If you have a particular medical condition that you think may benefit from antioxidant supplements, talk to your health care practitioner before taking high doses of anything to avoid making your condition worse or increasing your risk of another disease.

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