The hormetic role of dietary antioxidants in free radical-related diseases

Curr Pharm Des. 2010;16(7):877-83. doi: 10.2174/138161210790883615.


Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables or spices is associated with a reduced incidence of cancer and reduction of markers for neurodegenerative damage. Furthermore, greater health benefit may be obtained from raw as opposed to cooked vegetables. Nutritional interventions, by increasing dietary intake of fruits and vegetables, can retard and even reverse age-related declines in brain function and cognitive performance. The mechanisms through which dietary supplementation with antioxidants may be useful to prevent free radical-related diseases is related to their ability to counteract toxic production of both reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, along with the up-regulation of vitagenes, such as members of the heat shock protein (Hsp) family heme oxygenase-1 and Hsp70. The most prominent dietary factor that affects the risk of many different chronic diseases is energy intake - excessive calorie intake increases the risk. Reducing energy intake by controlled caloric restriction or intermittent fasting increases lifespan and protects various tissues against diseases, in part, by hormetic mechanisms that increase cellular stress resistance. This biphasic dose-response relationship, referred to here as hormesis, display low-dose stimulation and a high-dose inhibition. Despite the current interest in hormesis by the toxicology community, quantitatively similar U-shaped dose responses have long been recognized by researchers to be involved with factors affecting memory, learning, and performance, as well as nutritional antioxidants and oxidative stress-mediated degenerative reactions. Dietary polyphenols present strong cytoprotective effects, however under uncontrolled nutritional supplementation gene induction effects and the interaction with detoxification responses can have negative consequences through the generation of more reactive and harmful intermediates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / drug effects*
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Diet*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals