If you have read any health blogs, watched any television commercials, or visited your doctor, you have probably heard someone mention the term antioxidants. Antioxidants has been the buzzword in the health circles in recent years. Zealots even term antioxidant foods the end-all be-all of the health world. However, if you are like most people, you do not understand what constitutes an antioxidant or how they work. Are antioxidants really such a wonderful thing? Are they the answer to your health problems or are they just hyped up nutrients? Let’s unlock this mystery and learn the health benefits of antioxidants.
What are antioxidants?
The first thing we need to do is determine what antioxidants are and how they improve health. These are vital nutrients that are used by the body to fight free radical damage.
Free radicals cause damage to the body, especially when the number of these damage causing molecules becomes too high. Free radical damage has been linked to a multitude of illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Antioxidants are nutrients that naturally occur in certain fruits and vegetables, including vitamin C and vitamin E. These nutrients help to neutralize free radicals and minimize the damage they cause.
What are free radicals and how do they function?
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can result in accelerated aging and an increased risk of illness and disease. They cause damage throughout the body, which is referred to as oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been liked to:
- Autoimmune and inflammatory disease – Rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, etc.
- Cardiovascular disorders – High cholesterol, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure
- Central nervous system problems – Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Early aging – Wrinkles, decreased skin elasticity, gray hair, hair loss, and hair texture changes
- Genetic degenerative diseases – Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease
- Vision problems – cataracts and other age-related eye problems
What causes free radicals in the body?
Free radicals are naturally produced in the body however, certain lifestyle choices can increase the production of free radicals, including:
- Chemical exposure, i.e. air pollution, pesticides, herbicides, etc.
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Fried foods
These factors have been associated with a number of diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
How antioxidants counteract free radical damage
Antioxidants reduce the effects of free radicals on the body. Free radicals have an odd number of electrons. The free radicals attach to the cells in your body, resulting in cellular damage, which can cause chronic diseases and illnesses. Antioxidants counteract the damage caused by free radicals in a number of ways. Let’s look at how incorporating more antioxidant-rich foods in your diet along with taking vitamin and mineral supplements can improve your health.
Antioxidants work by blocking free radicals
Antioxidants defend the body against free radicals and oxidative stress. Free radicals are produced during the process of oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that transfers hydrogen or electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. This chemical reaction produces free radicals.
When the defense mechanism of the body fails to control the number of free radicals, they can start chain reactions that may result in damage or death of the cells. Antioxidants disrupt these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates and prevent other oxidation reactions.
Free radicals have an odd number of electrons, which causes them to attach to healthy cells and remove an electron, resulting in cellular damage and destruction. Antioxidants work by donating an electron so cellular damage will not occur. They also protect the body by blocking free radicals.
Promoting balanced oxidation
Oxidative stress is a natural occurrence; however, it can become unbalanced and cause damage throughout the body. When oxidative stress increases, antioxidants flood the body to counteract the effects of free radicals on the body. As the body uses more and more antioxidants, you will need to replenish the body by eating antioxidant rich foods and taking a multivitamin and mineral complex.
Most people have heard the importance of antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E; however, many people do not realize that there are several minerals that provide antioxidant protection, including selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc. Lycopene, polyphenols, flavonoids, and lutein are also antioxidants found in plants.
Include the following fruits and vegetables in your diet to increase these powerful free radical destroying nutrients:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Dark chocolate
Types of antioxidants
Antioxidants are separated into different categories based on their chemical effect – Carotenoids, Flavonoids, Isothiocyanates, Resveratrol, and Tannins. Herein are their possible effects and food sources:
Carotenoids – Carotenoids neutralize free radicals, boost cellular defenses against cancer and aging, and strengthen the immune system.
Food sources of carotenoids include carrots, spinach, tomatoes, kale, and collard greens.
Food sources of flavonoids are pears, apples, apricots, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, onions, cabbage, black tea, pinto beans, celery, green tea, olives, citrus fruits, purple oregano, purple grape juice, soy products, wine, and whole wheat.
Isothiocyanates – Isothiocyanates detoxify unwanted compounds, deactivate carcinogens, and speed up the removal of these compounds from the body.
Food sources include broccoli cauliflower, turnips, kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, cabbage, radish, watercress, and Bok choy.
Resveratrol – Resveratrol prevents inflammation, reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol, prevents blood clots, and protects the lining of blood vessels in the heart.
Food sources are peanuts, blueberries, cranberries, red and purple grapes, and red wine.
Tannins – Tannins have antibacterial and anti-parasitic effects. They also have antiviral properties. Finally, tannins may reduce the risk of cancer.
Food sources are red and white wine, persimmons, lentils, nuts, pomegranates, and green tea.
Does Exercise Boost the Ability of Antioxidants?
Regular exercise assists in the detoxification process. Exercise also helps antioxidants fight free radicals. However, when antioxidant levels in the body are below normal, sporadic exercise, i.e. once a week, may contribute to oxidative stress.
During exercise, carbohydrates and fats are used by the body for energy via the oxidation process. If the body lacks antioxidants, it may increase the number of free radicals in the body following exercise. The solution to this problem is to exercise more. You can improve your health by getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Antioxidants protect against free radical damage and oxidative stress, which can raise the risk of a plethora of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Antioxidants are natural compounds made by the body. You can increase the number of these vital nutrients in your body by eating fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and lentils. In addition to this, taking a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement will increase the antioxidants in the body.