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Anti-oxidants are important for proper body functioning. However, consumption of anti-oxidants beyond that already contained in any typical balanced diet have been repeatedly shown to exert zero measurable benefit in research. Many health claims related to anti-oxidants rely on the free-radical theory of cell degeneration, which has also been debunked by the FDA.
Natural sources of anti-oxidants
- Some vitamins — specifically, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A) — are anti-oxidants.
- Fruits, especially berries, are generally high in anti-oxidants and low in cost.
- Coffee is high in antioxidants, and in some people it may be the primary source of anti-oxidants.
- Tea is also high in antioxidants.
- Eating lots of food that are high in purine, such as anchovies and sweetbread, will increase the amount of the anti-oxidant uric acid in your bloodstream. This causes a condition known as "gout", a notoriously painful condition that almost always has its initial flareup in your big toe and then causes horrible sensations in all the rest of your joints.
Unnatural sources of anti-oxidants
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are anti-oxidants used as preservatives to prevent fats from oxidizing. Virtually all anti-oxidants are preservatives; the scientific name for oxidized fats is "rancid". According to alternative medicine and vegan woo-promoters, these ones are bad because they're "not natural".
The pitch, the sale, and the woo
One of the biggest sellers in the skin care market are those that contain "anti-oxidants" to help prevent aging. These are typically part of lotions, ointments and other goops applied to the skin, which suffer from "a paucity of controlled clinical trials in humans examining the role of anti-oxidants in preventing or decelerating skin aging."  Like many other wonder drugs to prevent aging, they are often extremely pricy for what they provide.
Often touted for muscle building, high dose anti-oxidant pills appear to be worse than useless. Yes, that's right, anti-oxidants hinder muscle development. This appears to be because muscles require a certain level of oxidative stress in order to build over time. Normal levels of anti-oxidants from dietary fruits and vegetables appear to be fine however.
There is always some trendy fruit from some exotic locale that is jumped on by the health food industry as "a good source of anti-oxidants." These include goji berries (Lycium barbarum), açaí berries (Euterpe oleracea), and the new-to-market amla fruit (Phyllanthus emblica). These pop up in teas, wonder drinks, and capsules: all pricey, none better than common (and far cheaper) raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries, unless they taste better. Although in the case of the amla fruit, its taste is "sour, bitter, and astringent." So, get some other fruit.
- FDA: Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 (2010)
- The Buzz on Coffee
- And most other things British, such as liver'n'onions and kidney pie and sardines and bangers'n'mash and kippers and lamprey pie…
- Medscape: Antioxidants Used in Skin Care Formulations
- Hydrogen sulfide offers clue to how reducing calories lengthens lives
- Lifespan effects of simple and complex nutraceutical combinations fed isocalorically to mice by Spindler SR et al. Age 2014 Apr;36(2):705-18.
- Endogenous Hydrogen Sulfide Production Is Essential for Dietary Restriction Benefits by Hine C et al. Cell Volume 160, Issues 1-2, p132–144, 15 January 2015.
- For athletes, antioxidant pills may not help performance: Some supplements can blunt the positive effects of exercise training by Laura Beil, Science News (February 24, 2015).
- See the Wikipedia article on Phyllanthus emblica.