How to Get the Right Amount of Antioxidants

Antioxidants aplenty — and the more the better! Until recently, it seemed that we just couldn’t get enough of these hard-working molecules that protect our cells from the oxidative damage that is at the root of so many age-related health problems. But now we’re beginning to see research that warns against excessive consumption of antioxidants, linking an overabundance to some very serious conditions — including genetic damage and an increased risk for diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s the deal? How much is “too much” in the realm of antioxidants? If you’re eating your nine servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables every day and taking a multivitamin, should you be worried? If you’re doing all that plus taking extra vitamins and/or antioxidant supplements, such as gingko or turmeric, are you putting yourself in real danger? For advice on how to get the right amount of antioxidants from food and supplements — not too much and not too little — I turned to Daily Health Newscontributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND.

Who Should Worry?

According to Dr. Rubman, anyone who is getting most of his/her antioxidants through diet has absolutely no reason to fret — it’s virtually impossible to overdo antioxidant intake this way. Although the current recommendation is for six to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables, you can feel free to go beyond this amount. But if you’re taking overly high doses of supplements — most especially without the ongoing supervision of a physician trained in this area — there may be reason for concern.

When it comes to supplements, it is important to keep in mind that more is not necessarily better and it may, in fact, cause harm. Many bodily systems rely not only on adequate antioxidants, but also on the dynamic balance between them and pro-oxidants. It’s especially worrisome when people take super-high doses of individual or small groups of antioxidants, Dr. Rubman warned, as these can throw off the balance altogether.

On the other hand, if you’re not a big eater of fresh produce or if you have particular health problems, you may benefit from antioxidant supplements. The tricky part is that antioxidant needs vary from person to person, depending on factors such as age, lifestyle habits and state of health.

Who Should Take What?

In Dr. Rubman’s practice, he prescribes a variety of antioxidants to patients who would benefit from limiting free-radical damage and strengthening their immune system beyond what their dietary intake may provide, most particularly people who are chronically ill… trying to conceive… or under intense physical or emotional stress. Among his favorites…

Vitamin A.Promotes healthy skin, teeth and vision. Retinol is an active form of vitamin A found in whole milk, liver and certain fortified foods. Carotenoids are pigments in plant foods that turn into vitamin A in your body, of which beta-carotene is the best known. Insufficient vitamin A may cause night blindness and a higher susceptibility to infectious diseases. Too much vitamin A, on the other hand, can lead to birth defects. Excess beta-carotene turns the skin yellow or orange.

Dr. Rubman often prescribes:10 international units (IU) to 20 IU of a 50-50 blend of retinyl palmitate and carotene carotenoids.

Good dietary sources:Brightly pigmented red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, such as apricots, carrots, peppers, pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes and mangos.

Vitamin C.Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is essential to many body functions including the formation of collagen and strong bones… iron absorption… wound healing and immune system performance. Signs of a vitamin C deficiency may include bruising… bleeding gums… joint pain… rough, scaly skin… and anemia. Vitamin C pills are fine, but Dr. Rubman advises his patients to buy vitamin C in powder form and mix it in juice or water, which is just as effective and far less expensive.

Dr. Rubman often prescribes:2,000 milligrams (mg) daily of vitamin C as ascorbic acid in powder form. Larger doses may cause stomach pain, diarrhea and gas, so reduce if necessary. Take vitamin C one-half hour before or one and one-half hours after meals.

Good dietary sources:Citrus fruits, berries, black currants, kiwis, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach and peppers — these also supply necessary cofactors that optimize and enchance antioxidant absorption and utilization, such as bioflavonoids and anthocyanidins.

Vitamin E.This vital antioxidant boosts circulatory health and assists in blood clotting and wound healing. Vitamin E deficiency is rare and is found mainly in people with fat-absorption problems (such as Crohn’s disease), but also sometimes linked with anemia, nerve damage and depression. Recent research raises safety concerns about high doses, especially when taken for long periods of time. But, said Dr. Rubman, that study had some serious flaws — most notably that it used synthetic vitamin E rather than a natural compound, which is far safer.

Dr. Rubman often prescribes:400 IU to 800 IU daily of the natural form of vitamin E, d-alpha tocopherol, in combination with mixed tocopherols or tocotrienols.

Good dietary sources:Avocados, spinach, nuts, seeds, egg yolks, whole grains and vegetable oils, such as wheat germ, olive and sunflower.

Zinc.This essential mineral is particularly good for male plumbing, Dr. Rubman explains, as it helps the prostate resist degenerative changes. Zinc also plays a role for both men and women in immune function and wound healing and is vital to normal growth and development in children. Too little zinc can lead to loss of appetite, diarrhea, delayed healing of wounds, hair loss and impotence. Excess zinc causes nausea, vomiting, cramps, low copper levels and impaired immune function.

Dr. Rubman often prescribes:Up to 35 mg/day for women and up to 50 mg/day for men.

Good dietary sources:Oysters, red meat, poultry and whole grains.

Other important antioxidants Dr. Rubman prescribes, based on the individual needs of patients, include vitamin D3, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), anthocyanidins, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, lutein, lycopene and selenium. He also likes a product called Eclectic Institute Nutrigenomic Berry POW-der (, a flash freeze-dried antioxidant mixture of organic acai, cranberry and strawberry, because it is a potent source of phytochemicals found in fresh berry extracts. These compounds help to keep tissues healthy and fight inflammation.

Try to get natural vitamins and cofactors from food first, advises Dr. Rubman — and if you do want to supplement, look for one that contains most of the ones mentioned above and start slow. For your best health, don’t just barrage your body with a slew of antioxidant supplements — it’s much better to consult your physician to determine what your antioxidant needs are and how to best meet them.