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J Am Diet Assoc. 1996 Jul;96(7):693-702; quiz 703-4.

Update on the biological characteristics of the antioxidant micronutrients: vitamin C, vitamin E, and the carotenoids.

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  • 1Program in Human Nutrition, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-2029, USA.


Under normal circumstances, free radicals that are produced through biological processes and in response to exogenous stimuli are controlled by various enzymes and antioxidants in the body. Laboratory evidence suggests that oxidative stress, which occurs when free radical formation exceeds the ability to protect against them, may form the biological basis of several acute medical problems, such as tissue injury after trauma, and chronic conditions, such as atherosclerosis and cancer. A potential role for the antioxidant micronutrients (vitamin C, vitamin E, and the carotenoids) in modifying the risk for conditions that may result from oxidative stress has stimulated intense research efforts, increased interest in micronutrient supplements, and heightened consumer interest in these compounds. Much remains to be learned, however, about the bioavailability, tissue uptake, metabolism, and biological activities of these micronutrients. These biological characteristics will ultimately determine their clinical usefulness in modulating oxidative stress. Also, whether the antioxidant mechanism explains their relationship with risk for acute and chronic disease in epidemiologic studies remains to be determined. Increased knowledge in this area of nutrition science will have an impact on both clinical dietetics practice and public health nutrition guidelines.

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