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Dietary antioxidants for cardiovascular prevention.

Author

Giugliano D

Date

2/2000

Journal

Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis

Abstract

The generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is associated with life in aerobic conditions. ROS are thought to be implicated in the pathogenesis of various human diseases since they are capable of damaging biological macromolecules such as DNA, carbohydrates and proteins. The organism maintains defense against ROS, including enzymes and low molecular-weight antioxidants. An important source of antioxidants is diet which contains numerous compounds exhibiting antioxidant activity. A shortage of antioxidants in the diet might promote coronary heart disease through accumulation of oxidized LDL in macrophages. However, antioxidants may also influence endothelial functions, smooth muscle cell proliferation, thrombosis and plaque rupture. Consumption of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, red wine and tea is inversely correlated with heart disease rates. These foods are particularly rich in natural antioxidant nutrients, including ascorbate (vitamin C), the tocopherols (vitamin E) and carotenoids. More than 600 naturally occurring carotenoids have been identified. These compounds are plant pigments that provide the bright color of various fruits and vegetables; lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color, is under active research. Flavonoids are > 4,000 naturally occurring substances which provide color, texture and taste for plant foods. As free radical scavengers, flavonoids inhibit lipid peroxidation, promote vascular relaxation and help prevent atherosclerosis. A sufficient supply with antioxidants from diet might help prevent or delay the occurrence of pathological changes associated with oxidative stress. When diet fails to meet the antioxidant requirement, dietary supplements might be indicated. The recently coined term nutriceuticals describes a variety of nonprescription products that are used to enhance health. The best known are vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids and the amino acid L-arginine. Rigorous clinical trials, particularly among high-risk groups, are needed before they can be recommended routinely to patients.

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