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Antioxidant Care for the Critically Ill


Antioxidants may decrease the risk of infection and death in people who are critically ill, according to a study in Critical Care.

Antioxidants in action

Antioxidants are compounds that play a variety of roles in the body. One of their most important jobs is to limit the damage caused by free radicals, unstable particles that can cause inflammation and injure cells throughout the body.

People who are critically ill—from traumatic injuries or body-wide infection, for example—are in a state of free radical overload. To help the body deal with these crises, the body produces an abundance of free radicals but too many can harm many tissues and organs.

Several studies have looked at using antioxidants to help offset the effects of free radical–damage in critically ill people. Most of the studies have been small, though, so a group of investigators conducted a review of the trials to see if any patterns emerged.

The results from 21 studies were included in the analysis. The researchers looked at the effects of antioxidants such as selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and E, on length of hospital stay, number of days on a ventilator, and risk of infection and death in critically ill people who were admitted to the intensive care unit.

Combined antioxidant therapy was found to reduce the risk of death by 18% and significantly reduce the number of days that people were on mechanical ventilation. It also tended to reduce the number of infections.

The people at highest risk of dying seemed to benefit the most from antioxidant therapy. Antioxidants did not seem to affect the length of stay in the hospital.

“Antioxidant cocktails with intravenous selenium at high doses may optimize the therapeutic effect of antioxidant strategies,” commented the researchers. More research is needed to come up with the optimal combination and beneficial amounts of antioxidants to help critically ill people.

Eat your antioxidants

Studies have shown that antioxidants perform their task best when taken before an injury. Since no one really knows when an injury is going to happen, this is just one more reason to get plenty of antioxidants all the time. Here are some tips on how:

  • Go for variety. To get the most antioxidants out of your diet and to keep your palate pleased, select a wide array of fruits and vegetables. Foods like red beans, blueberries, blackberries, artichokes, cranberries, strawberries, pecans, potatoes, and apples are packed with antioxidants.
  • Prepare it right. Some antioxidants, like vitamin C, aren’t very stable. Others, like beta-carotene, are less sensitive to heat and air, making foods like baked sweet potatoes a perfect addition to your diet. Cooking helps the body better metabolize antioxidants in foods like carrots, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, red cabbage, tomatoes, and red and green peppers. Most other fruits and vegetables have more antioxidants in their raw state.

(Crit Care 2012;doi:10.1186/cc11316)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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