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The Truth About Antioxidants

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Vitamin E and Flavonoids

Vitamin E

Whether vitamin E can prevent heart disease is still an open question. Studies show that taking supplements didn’t help people who already had heart problems, but many researchers think the vitamin may be protective if you start taking it early, before arteries become clogged with cholesterol. Both the Nurses’ Health Study and the Iowa Women's Health Study-two large investigations focusing specifically on women-found that vitamin E pills cut heart disease risk nearly in half. But heart disease isn't the only reason to be concerned about your E intake. "When people ask me what they can do to keep their brains healthy, I say take vitamin E," says Jeff Victoroff, M.D., a neurologist at the University of Southern California and author of Saving Your Brain (Bantam, 2002). It improves blood flow to the brain and may protect against Alzheimer's disease. Vitamin E may help ward off colon cancer as well. According to a study at Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, people who take vitamin E cut their risk in half. The Iowa Women's Health Study found that women with the highest E intake lowered their odds of colon cancer by almost 70 percent.

Daily Dose: You can meet your nutritional needs with 22 international units (or 15 mg) a day. But to get E's disease-fighting benefits, many experts think you need 400 to 600 IU a day.

Food or Supplements? Vitamin E is found mostly in foods high in polyunsaturated fats, like vegetable oils, nuts and margarine, but you need a supplement to reach the 400 to 600 IU level. Dr. Victoroff says the best choice is natural.

Flavonoids

Red wine, purple grape juice, tea (black and green), apples, herbs (like oregano and parsley), raisins, prunes, berries, chocolate, even beer are all brimming with flavonoids-a term used for a family of antioxidants that may be even more potent than vitamin C or E. For example, the combination of flavonoid compounds in oregano packs 12 times the antioxi-dant punch of oranges, according to a study from the USDA. Two recent studies found that flavonoids in apples, tea and chocolate can protect against heart disease. Those in tea, called catechins, are also believed to fight cancer and prevent bone loss that leads to osteo-porosis. Polyphenols, another type of flavonoid found in red wine, helps keep blood vessels open, ensuring adequate blood flow to the heart.

Daily Dose: Experts haven't yet set a recommended level; estimates range from 100 to 500 mg a day. A cup of tea contains about 170 mg.

Food or Supplements? So far only a handful of the 4,000 flavonoids known to exist in fruits and vegetables have been singled out as possible disease fighters. But research in this area is just beginning, and it may turn out that some of these other flavonoids are important. That's why experts say you should rely on foods to ensure that you're getting a broad spectrum. Although supplements on the market may provide 1,000 mg of flavonoids per pill, they're likely to contain just a few types. Also, research at the University of California at Berkeley suggests that, at this high level, flavonoids can damage cells instead of protect them. These compounds are flushed out of the body quickly, so try to eat flavonoid-rich foods several times throughout the day. Some experts think the reason heart disease and cancer rates are so low in parts of Asia is simply because people there drink tea with every meal.

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