Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Antioxidants?

July 30, 2013

Is There Such A Thing As Too Many Antioxidants?
I’m not sure why, but this question has been daunting me these past few days. So I figured, I must get to the bottom of it, because I’m the type of person that goes bonkers over these sort of things.
Too much green tea? Too much fruit? When too much of a good thing becomes bad? 
You see, over the last decade or so we’ve been relentlessly told that antioxidants are the key to better health. “The more, the better!” is the adage we keep hearing. 
As a result, grocery stores shelves are now chock-full of products with labels bragging that they contain large amounts of antioxidants, implying that you’re just few bites away from better health. 
However, when it comes to antioxidants, as I discovered, more doesn’t necessarily means better.  

The role of antioxidants
Antioxidants are important because they stop harmful chemical reactions in our body caused by oxidation. In particular, antioxidants block free radicals, which can injure cells and cause damage in the DNA. The damage caused by free radicals is the common pathway for cancer, aging, and a variety of degenerative diseases. Unfortunately, the human body cannot synthesise antioxidants, thus they must be supplied through the diet.

Too many antioxidants?

Antioxidants are not the fix for everything, and a certain degree of oxidant stress is be necessary for the body to function properly. For instance, some free radicals are necessary to do things like fight infection. A recent
study suggests that antioxidants overdose can alter the balance in the body, to the detriment of our health.
It’s very unlikely to consume antioxidants at levels higher than recommended just with food. In fact, over-supplementation can only happen through the intake of supplements and fortified foods.
A well nourished person, who follows a healthy diet rich in fruit, veggies and other plant food, gets all the necessary antioxidants. The body is well able to regulate nutrients when consumed in the natural whole food form. 

Is supplementation always bad?

There are times when an antioxidants boost through supplementation can actually be a good thing.

Let’s say you’re going through a particularly stressful time in your life, because of work or family-related issues. Stress can take a toll on your health by increasing the production of free-radicals. During those times, supplementing your diet with extra antioxidants can help.
The same goes for endurance athletes. Intense training increases oxidative stress in the body, thus the need for supplementation (and yes, that’s me!)
Other exceptions include people who have a specific nutrient deficiency or are older than fifty. As we age, our need for antioxidants increases while our body’s ability to absorb them from the diet declines.
Except those cases, focusing on eating a proper diet rich in fruit, veggies and other plant food should provide all the antioxidants needed. The human body needs a mix of antioxidants. Each antioxidant works in different tissues of the body and in different parts of cells. Some are good at fighting some free radicals, some are better at fighting others. When you have a proper amount of different antioxidants, you’re good to go. 


Antioxidants are crucial for health, but unless you have a specific need, you should focus on the food you eat. There’s no actual risk of antioxidants overdose just from the consumption of whole, natural foods. And if you think you might need to take a supplement, I suggest you talk about it with your doc.