Dietary oxidative stress and antioxidant defense with an emphasis on plant extract administration
Eukaryotic cells generally function in a reduced state, but an amount of reactive species is essential for several biochemical processes. The antioxidant network is the defensive mechanism that occurs when the concentration of reactive species exceeds a threshold. Polyphenolic compounds present in plant extracts are potent antioxidants in vitro, but they may promote oxidative stress when administered in animals and humans, especially when given as supplements in exercise, a modality usually adopted as an oxidant stimulus. This is mainly observed when antioxidant molecules are administered separately and not as part of a diet. Exercise is usually adopted as a physiological model for examining the effects of reactive species in human or animal physiology. The use of exercise as a model demonstrates that reactive species do not always have adverse effects, but are necessary in physiological processes that are beneficial for human health. This review summarizes what is known about antioxidant supplementation and demonstrates the need for a meticulous examination of the in vitro findings before applying them to in vivo models. The term "antioxidant" seems elusive, and it is more appropriate to characterize a compound as "antioxidant" if we know in which concentration it is used, when it is used, and under which conditions.