Antioxidants work by sucking up free radicals that can damage your body's cells and transporting them to the liver where eventually they exit the body.
Heart Disease in particular has been the subject of recent studies. Researchers in Italy examined three hundred and seven middle aged women for Atherosclerosis. This is the formation of plaques and lesions in the coronary arteries, which can signal the development of cardiovascular disease years before a doctor diagnosis's it. These women did not take vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C or E.
The researchers took blood samples to measure the women's baseline level of various antioxidants, took questionnaires and performed ultrasound examinations of their carotid arteries and branches of the heart. They found that women who had plaques building in their arteries had a low intake of vitamin E. Women with the lowest baseline concentrations of Vitamin E in their blood were twice as likely to have plaque build up in their carotid arteries and branches of the heart.
In a side note some promising research has come up relating to breast cancer in women. Researchers gave thirty-two women between the ages of thirty-two and eighty-one with metastasized breast cancer a multivitamin supplement. It contained vitamin C, E, Beta Carotene, selenium, coenzyme Q10 and other vitamins and minerals daily for eighteen months.
None of the patients died during this period, which is wonderful because without supplements it could be expected that at least four of the volunteers would have died. Also the cancer in each of the patients appeared to stop spreading. Six of the patients showed partial remission. One of the six patients in partial remission had her dosage of coenzyme Q10 increased to 390mg daily and within two months her tumor could no longer be seen on a mammogram.
Antioxidants are beneficial but they seem to be able to do only do so much. In a French study publicized in 2004 it was found that antioxidants tended to benefit men more than women. The Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale and Unite de Surveillance et d'Epidemiologie Nutritionnelle studied the effects of taking supplements in more than thirteen thousand men and women for seven and a half years.
The participants were divided into groups, each one taking a different antioxidant daily. The antioxidants were ascorbic acid, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene, Selenium, Zinc and a placebo. At the end of the study they found that the men who took antioxidants were thirty-one percent less likely to develop cancer than women.
Some of us women may be automatically thinking what a sexist finding! While it is possible that antioxidants are simply more effective in men it's not probable. It is more likely that the men had a lower baseline of antioxidants in their bloodstream than women, in other words women may have a better diet than men with lots of antioxidants and their baselines were already high. So the antioxidants that men took simply brought the men's baseline up and the antioxidants that women took may have been superfluous.
As a result of this study the researchers suggested that you are able to get a high and beneficial level of antioxidants in your blood with a diet containing lots of fruits and veggies.