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Bridging the nutritional gap – Part 2: Phenolic antioxidants

The rising popularity of health supplements is not without criticisms. One of the most misunderstood health supplements is antioxidants. This health supplement category is a relatively new concept and particularly intriguing because it is touted to address the biggest health worry of the century: ageing.

What are phenolic antioxidants?

Phenolic antioxidants are among the compounds being studied intensively because of their role in preventing damages cause by free radicals, which is one of the leading cause of ageing. Phenolic antioxidants have advantages over other antioxidant types and the potentially significantly increased benefits for human health. The most fundamental element of health supplement is bioavailability – because unless it is biologically available to human system, they tend to do more harm than good.

Health supplements such as vitamin B complex and vitamin C are water soluble which are relatively easier for the body to get rid of. Those who take this kind of supplements may be familiar with the colour change in their urine after taking the supplements. An indication of the inability of the body to absorb and utilise these compounds. This phenomenon has prompted those who are against taking health supplements into making an argument that taking supplements are basically making an expensive urine, since majority – if not all – of the compounds are being flushed out of the body.

Some health experts even argue that over a long period of time, these non-absorbable compounds may potentially cause damage to organs such as liver and kidney, an argument based on the fact that liver and kidney are the ones responsible to process these compounds before they are secreted out.

In the era where there is a tendency to think that more is better, the effort to bridge nutritional gap by taking supplements could be dangerous, because too much could cause harm.

Vitamin A when taken in large doses or too frequently may cause toxicity. Saturating the body with cocktail of non-absorbable antioxidants could also negatively impact the body’s indigenous antioxidant system, which could significantly increase the risk of exposure towards free radical damage through a reaction known as pro-oxidation.

Pro-oxidation happens because when an antioxidant molecule gives up its electron to neutralise a free radical molecule, it becomes a free radical itself. Therefore, although it neutralises one free radical molecule, it is now starting an oxidation chain reaction of its own.

Taking the right supplements at the right doses and in the right forms are important to ensure that these health supplements do indeed supplement health and not causing harm to the body.

The best of both worlds

The development of the technology in health and nutrition increases human life expectancy and quality.

Numerous health issues caused by nutrient deficiency can now be resolved through supplementations or food enrichment and fortification.

Access to these convenient supplements certainly helps to improve health and potentially lower the risks of developing degenerative diseases. However health supplements should not be treated as the silver bullet to good health or a quick lazy fix to unhealthy lifestyle. As the name suggests, health supplements should only be supplementary to a healthy balance diet.

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