Elemental and gaseous oxygen presents a conundrum in that it is simultaneously essential for and potentially destructive to human life. Traditionally the ability to consume large volumes of oxygen has been assumed to be totally beneficial to the organism. In the past 10 years it has become clear that oxygen radicals are generated even during normal resting metabolism Nevertheless, such radicals are usually of no appreciable threat since a wide array of protective biochemical systems exist. However, under certain circumstances aerobic exercise may increase free radical production to a level that overwhelms those defenses. A broad array of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, p-carotene, and so forth are known to suppress such radical events. This paper reviews the status of our knowledge relative to the potential benefits of nutritional modification in augmenting the organism's normal defense against harmful radical chemistry.
Robert R. Jenkins with the Department of Biology, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850.