Eat This, Not That: How do you take your antioxidants?

As scientists, doctors and dental professionals continue to explore the links between disease, inflammation and oxidative stress, it seems logical that maintaining a good balance of oxidants and antioxidants in oral tissues is important for oral health as well as systemic health. The question becomes, “What is the best way to supplement antioxidants?”

A quick survey of the Internet or of health food stores or even grocery and drug store shelves proves that there is no lack of availability for antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants can be found in pills and potions, in teas and toothpaste. Some work very well; others are simply bogus. Consumers must be wary about claims of potency and quality. Because dietary supplements are not necessarily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, one other concern with dietary supplements is the quality of the ingredients and truth in labeling.

Hitting the Target?

Oral supplements of antioxidants depend on the body’s digestive system for uptake and absorption. Other foods or nutrients may interfere with absorption levels. And once the antioxidants enter the bloodstream, distribution throughout the body is proportionate.  It’s difficult to be sure that circulating antioxidants hit a specific target, such as oral tissues, or that there is a sufficient amount to be effective.

Antioxidants are inherently unstable in their bio-active state as they donate electrons to neutralize free radicals. Manufacturers must add stabilizing compounds to antioxidant products. Releasing the active antioxidants from these compounds is not always successful in commercial products.

The dosage of antioxidant dietary supplements is an important issue, too. They cannot be stockpiled for later use; excess amounts are excreted in urine. Very high doses of some antioxidants can be toxic.

Bet on Fruits and Veggies

Although there is ongoing and exciting research into the link between antioxidants and general health, it is still an emerging science. Many products claim to provide beneficial antioxidants in a dietary supplement. However, a study published in 2004 in Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association, concluded,“At this time, the scientific evidence supports recommending consumption of a diet high in food sources of antioxidants and other cardioprotective nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts, instead of antioxidant supplements to reduce risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease]. It does not support the use of antioxidant vitamin supplements.” [[Circulation. 2004;110:637-641]]

In short, traditional science still maintains that the best bet for increasing the level of antioxidants is through a healthy diet with a rich and varied supply of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Dietary supplements of antioxidants cannot be seen as the most effective way to maintain the oxidant/antioxidant balance, especially in the oral tissues.

However, recent scientific studies have shown that certain antioxidants compounded for direct application to oral tissues are effective against free radicals. Topical application does assure that the antioxidants intended for the oral tissues are put to work precisely where they are needed to neutralize free radicals and counteract inflammation.