This review will discuss some issues related to the risk/benefit profile of the use of dietary antioxidants. Thus, recent progress regarding the potential benefit of dietary antioxidants in the treatment of chronic diseases with a special focus on immune system and neurodegenerative disorders will be discussed here. It is well established that reactive oxygen species (ROS) play an important role in the etiology of numerous diseases, such as atherosclerosis, diabetes and cancer. Among the physiological defense system of the cell, the relevance of antioxidant molecules, such as glutathione and vitamins is quite well established. Recently, the interest of researchers has, for example, been conveyed on antioxidant enzyme systems, such as the heme oxygenase/biliverdin reductase system, which appears modulated by dietary antioxidant molecules, including polyphenols and beta-carotene. These systems possibly counteract oxidative damage very efficiently and finally modulate the activity of oxidative phenomena occurring, for instance, during pathophysiological processes. Although evidence shows that antioxidant treatment results in cytoprotection, the potential clinical benefit deriving from both nutritional and supplemental antioxidants is still under wide debate. In this line, the inappropriate assumption of some lipophylic vitamins has been associated with increased incidence of cancer rather than with beneficial effects.
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