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It is estimated that approximately 30% of individuals in the United States are taking some form of antioxidant supplementation for the numerous proposed health benefits of these types of nutritional preparations. Nutritional supplements should be used only as an adjunct to a balanced dietary plan and not as a substitute for dietary sources of nutrients, however.
Antioxidants are abundant in various fruits, vegetables, and other foods, such as grains, nuts, some meats, poultry, and fish. It is now believed that many other antioxidants also occur naturally in foods and beverages?such as green tea, which contains polyphenols, and blueberries, which contain an antioxidant known as anthocyanin.
Currently, scientific evidence supports a diet high in food sources of antioxidants and other nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts, instead of antioxidant supplements, to reduce the risk of many medical conditions.1 Many individuals still prefer to use nutritional supplements, however.
Variety of Products
A variety of vitamin supplement products are available over the counter that contain an assortment of antioxidants to suit the needs of many patients (Tables 1 and 2). These products come in various dosages and either as single-entity or combination formulations.
The Role of the Pharmacist
Pharmacists can greatly assist patients in making the proper choice of antioxidant supplements by assessing the patients' medical history. It also is imperative to screen patients' drug profiles for potential drug interactions and contraindications. For example, smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements, because it has been found that smokers who use supplements with beta-carotene have an increased risk of lung cancer.
Patients using supplements should be advised to take only the recommended dosage. More research is needed to make definitive conclusions on the health benefits associated with taking antioxidant supplements. Patients always should be encouraged to attempt to meet their dietary needs through eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on foods that are rich in antioxidants and to seek the advice of a registered dietitian if needed.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in the northern Virginia area.
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