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Ask Dr. Mike: Balancing Antioxidants with Oxidation & FDA on Dietary Supplements

Here you'll find the answers to a wealth of health and wellness questions posed by Healthy Talk fans. Listen in because what you know helps ensure healthy choices you can live with. Today on Healthy Talk, you wanted to know:

Hi Dr. Mike, we're learning a lot about antioxidants lately. It's clear we need some antioxidants and the body does use oxidant signaling to start anti-inflammatory cascades. Of course, you can take too many antioxidants through food and supplements. But how do you tell where the sweet spot is, where you are cooling off excessive oxidation with some supplementation but not shutting down beneficial reactions?

Everything in life is about balance. This is also true of antioxidants, which are nutrients known to slow and prevent oxidative damage on your body and health.

In theory, you can overload on antioxidants, shut out the function of natural killer cells, which causes you to become more prone to infection. However, this is where the appropriate balance comes in.

You need to be able to have both antioxidants as well as oxidation. As for the "sweet spot," that varies on an individual basis.

What role does the FDA play in the overall development of dietary supplements?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is an agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is in charge of protecting your heath by properly labeling and ensuring safety of human and animal drugs, cosmetics, and the U.S. food supply.

It's a huge myth that the FDA doesn't regulate the supplement industry. They do, but they don't regulate pre-market launches of a product like they do with drugs. Instead it's all post-market. They do look at product label claim, how it's being marketed and test random products.

If you have a health question or concern, Dr. Mike encourages you to write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call in, toll-free, to the LIVE radio show (1.844.305.7800) so he can provide you with support and helpful advice.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: March 23, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

RadioMD. It's time to ask Dr. Mike. Do you have a question about your health? Dr. Mike can answer your questions. Just email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call now: 877-711-5211. The lines are open.

DR. MIKE: Alright. Just so you know, I do have a different number just for little bit of time 844-305-7800. Please go ahead and give me a call or send me your email questions as well.

So, we're going to move on to, I think this is a really good question by Bart Taylor. Well, actually I don't know if it's from Bart, the email is from Bart but then it says. "Love your shell, Michelle." So I'm not sure if this is from Bart or Michelle, either one of those.

"Hi Dr. Mike: We're learning a lot about antioxidants lately. It's clear we need some antioxidants. The body does use oxidant signaling to start anti-inflammatory cascades. Of course, you can take too many antioxidants through food or supplements but how do you tell where the sweet spot is? Where you are cooling off excess oxidation with some supplementation but not shutting down beneficial reactions?"

I think this is a really good question. And I think the answer, Michelle or Bart, really comes down to balance. You're right. The body does use certain oxidants to run certain reactions. Just look at the immune system. I've talked before with cancer patients during cold and flu season about the importance of natural killer cells, for instance. Natural killer cells are kind of your front line immune warriors. They're surveying your blood. They're ready to attack a virus or a bacteria that comes into your blood system. And they do so with oxidants. That's how they do it. They're able to inject pro-oxidants into a bacteria or a virus and that disrupts the membrane of the virus or the bacteria and it kills them. So, yes, in theory I could overload on anti-oxidants and shut out a little bit of the function of the natural killer cell and put myself at risk for infection.

I meant, that is, in theory, what could happen. And so, again, I think it comes back to this idea of balance. Here's another example. If I lived in a bubble where all exogenous toxins and infectious agents and everything were just taken out of the equation and I just lived in this bubble, my body would have a certain amount of pro-oxidant production that would be countered perfectly by my body's own production of anti-oxidants. It's kind of like for every oxidant that's formed and does its job, then there's this antioxidant that comes along and shuts it out until the next time I have an oxidant.

That would be like this perfect balance. But here's the thing. The problem with all this is that we don't live in bubbles anymore. I mean we live in an atmosphere where certain radiation from the sun comes through, even though our atmosphere blocks a lot of that, some of that still comes through.

We have our own bodies produce a lot of these oxidants. We have toxins in our environment today like we've never seen before and most of them are pro-oxidants causing oxidative stress. A lot of the preservatives that we use in foods today. That's a great thing. I think sometimes we forget that we live in such an awesome day and age. We're so blessed that we're able to have food on a shelf for a long time. That's pretty amazing when you think about that and that's a good thing to a point. But when we're consuming that stuff over and over again, then there's a problem. So, unfortunately, this little bubble doesn't exist. It's popped.

By the way, I live and you live, we live in an environment that is more oxidative than it's ever been. Pollution, preservatives. All that right? Let alone what my own body produces. So when you put all that together, we are imbalanced. If we're on a see-saw and one side of the see-saw is pro-oxidants and the other side is antioxidants, the side with the pro-oxidants is like a 500 pound guy sitting on it and the anti-oxidant side is like a 80 pound 12-year-old girl or something. I don't know. You just get that in your head. We're totally, totally balanced towards the bad stuff--the oxidants. So, even though in theory, Michelle or Bart, I think this is a good question, that you have to be careful about how much you're taking in, in terms of anti-oxidants from food and supplementation when you actually look at the reality of the lives that we're living today. We need more anti-oxidants.

We need to balance that see-saw better. We need to get rid of these toxins. We need to counter the preservatives. We need to take in more anti-oxidants. And I know there's been some cell culture studies that have actually looked at certain very strong anti-oxidants like curcumin, for instance, even CoQ10, pomegranate. I mean they've looked at these traditionally used anti-oxidants either through food or supplements. In petri dish studies, they've shown that curcumin, for instance, can actually turn on pro-inflammatory pathways, if you get too much of it in. The problem with those studies, Michelle and Bart, is that in those little petri dishes, they've created kind of like this little bubble. They've created a bubble and they've thrown in a bunch of anti-oxidants, so now they've created an imbalance and they're showing some adverse effect from it.

Because when you do those same studies, which they've done this, you take that same petri dish, you add pro-oxidants into it first and then you add curcumin, you get a good result. And I think it just goes to this idea that we just need to be in balance. We need some oxidation, but we have to counter that with anti-oxidation. We live in an environment today that's very pro-oxidant, so we need to probably add in more anti-oxidants.

Now in your own words here, Michelle or Bart, where's the sweet spot? I mean, I don't know how to answer that. That's really up to the individual. The sweet spot for anti-oxidant use for somebody that lives in a bubble is going to be none because your own body makes its own antioxidants and you're going to be able to cover the pro-oxidants that are just formed through normal metabolism. So that person, the bubble living person, their sweet spot is going to be really low when it comes to anti-oxidant use. They don't need much. But burst that bubble and place that person in a city environment and they're working, maybe they're mechanic, and they're working with lots of industrial chemicals. That person's sweet spot is much higher, isn't it? They're going to require a lot more anti-oxidants. So, there is no generalized sweet spot for anti-oxidant use. I just know we need anti-oxidants today because the average person is living in an environment that is very pro-oxidant. We need to eat more fruits and vegetables--the deep dark colored ones: 7, 8, 9, 10 servings. Not the 3 or 4 that the government talks about. That's silly.

And probably supplementing with some known anti-oxidants like pomegranate, CoQ10, Omega oils, curcumin. I think that's all very important important because I know the average person in the developed world is balanced toward oxidation. And I've got to rebalance that back towards anti-oxidation. So, where that sweet spot is it's really hard to tell and it's just going to be an individual answer.

I think I'm going to skip this one question because I think it's going to take a little more time. Let me go to a question real quickly about "What role does the FDA play in the overall development of dietary supplements?"
It's a myth that the FDA doesn't regulate the supplement industry. They do. They just don't regulate pre-market launch of a product like they do with drugs. Instead, it's all post-market regulation. They do look at product label claims. They look at how a product is being marketed. The FDA does pull off random products to test to make sure the label claims--that the ingredients--on the label are actually in that product at that right dose. So, the FDA does regulate the supplement industry. They make us follow GMP manufacturing and they can post-market evaluate products. So, they do have a role.

This is healthy talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.