The human body is a very delicate machine and various substances, natural or man made are useful and beneficialÂ to its ability to perform optimally.
Amongst those substances are antioxidants.
An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, leading to chain reactions that may damage cells.
You might already know about foods you should be eating for your heart or your gutâ€”but what about the foods that protect your cells? Those would be the ones packed with antioxidants, a buzzy term youâ€™ve probably heard before.
What Are Antioxidants?
All living organisms utilize oxygen to metabolize and use the dietary nutrients in order to produce energy for survival. Oxygen thus is a vital component for living. Oxygen meditates chemical reactions that metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to produce energy.
â€¢Â Â Â Dark side of oxygen
While oxygen is one of the most essential components for living, it is also a double edged sword. Oxygen is a highly reactive atom that is capable of becoming part of potentially damaging molecules commonly called â€œfree radicals.â€
â€¢ Free radicals
These free radicals are capable of attacking the healthy cells of the body. This may lead to damage, disease and severe disorders. Cell damage caused by free radicals appears to be a major contributor to aging and diseases like:
2. heart disease
3. decline in brain function
4. decline in immune system etc.
Overall, free radicals have been implicated in the pathogenesis of at least 50 diseases.
Since free radicals contain an unpaired electron they are unstable and reach out and capture electrons from other substances in order to neutralize themselves. This initially stabilizes the free radical but generates another in the process. Soon a chain reaction begins and thousands of free radical reactions can occur within a few seconds on the primary reaction.
Antioxidants occur naturally in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, wine, and chocolate. While there are thousands of antioxidant compounds out there, youâ€™ve probably heard of flavanols (found in chocolate), resveratrol (found in wine), and lycopene (found in tomatoes). Other popular antioxidants include vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, E, and catechins.
Antioxidants help prevent or stop cell damage caused by oxidants. Oxidants are free radicals that you find in the environment, but theyâ€™re also produced naturally in your body,
â€¢ Oxidative stress
Oxidative stress means an unbalance between pro-oxidants and antioxidant mechanisms. This results in excessive oxidative metabolism. This stress can be due to several environmental factors such as exposure to pollutants, alcohol, medications, infections, poor diet, toxins, radiation etc. Oxidative damage to DNA, proteins, and other macromolecules may lead to a wide range of human diseases most notably heart disease and cancer.
â€¢ Control of free radicals
Normally free radical formation is controlled naturally by various beneficial compounds known as antioxidants. When there is deficiency of these antioxidants damage due to free radicals can become cumulative and debilitating.
Antioxidants are capable of stabilizing, or deactivating, free radicals before they attack cells. Antioxidants are capable of stabilizing, or deactivating, free radicals before they attack cells.
â€¢ Antioxidants from food
There are several nutrients in food that contain antioxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene are among the most commonly studied dietary antioxidants.
Vitamin C is the most important water-soluble antioxidant in extracellular fluids. Vitamin C helps to neutralize ROS in the water or aqueous phase before it can attack the lipids.
Vitamin E is the most important lipid soluble antioxidant. It is important as the chain-breaking antioxidant within the cell membrane. It can protect the membrane fatty acids from lipid peroxidation. Vitamin C in addition is capable of regenerating vitamin E.
Beta carotene and other carotenoids also have antioxidant properties. Carotenoids work in synergy with vitamin E.
â€¢ Antioxidant deficiencies
A diet low in fats may impair absorption of beta carotene and vitamin E and other fat-soluble nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamin C and carotenoids. Whole grains and high quality vegetable oils are major sources of vitamin E.
Many plant-derived substances are known as â€œphytonutrients,â€ or â€œphytochemicalsâ€. These also possess antioxidant properties. Phenolic compounds such as flavonoids are such chemicals. These are found in several fruits, vegetables, green tea extracts etc.
â€¢ Antioxidants within the human body
Apart from diet, the body also has several antioxidant mechanisms that can protect itself from ROS mediated damage. The antioxidant enzymes â€“ glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD) are such enzymes. They require micronutrient cofactors such as selenium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese for their activity. It has been suggested that an inadequate dietary intake of these trace minerals may also lead to low antioxidant activity.
Antioxidants come up frequently in discussions about good health and preventing diseases. These powerful substances, which mostly come from the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat, prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body.
1. Antioxidants and Free Radicals
The human body naturally produces free radicals and the antioxidants to counteract their damaging effects. However, in most cases, free radicals far outnumber the naturally occurring antioxidants. In order to maintain the balance, a continual supply of external sources of antioxidants is necessary in order to obtain the maximum benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants benefit the body by neutralizing and removing the free radicals from the bloodstream.
2. Different Antioxidants Benefit Different Parts of the Body
There are a wide range of antioxidants found in nature, and because they are so varied, different antioxidants provide benefits to different parts of the body. For example, beta-carotene (and other carotenoids) is very beneficial to eye health; lycopene is beneficial for helping maintain prostate health; flavonoids are especially beneficial for heart health; and proanthocyanidins are beneficial for urinary tract health.
3. Your skin is your largest organ, so it is important to take care of it. Antioxidants protect skin by limiting the production of free radicals, which can damage skin cells. Antioxidants in skin care products can do a lot for the health and appearance of your skin, including reducing the signs of aging.Antioxidants and Skin Health Benefits
When skin is exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light, photo-oxidative damage is induced by the formation of different types of reactive species of oxygen, including singlet oxygen, superoxide radicals, and peroxide radicals. These forms of reactive oxygen damage cellular lipids, proteins, and DNA, and they are considered to be the primary contributors to erythema (sunburn), premature aging of the skin, photodermatoses, and skin cancers.
Astaxanthin, followed by beta-carotene combined with vitamin E has been shown to be one of the most powerful antioxidant combinations for helping protect the skin from reactive species of oxygen.
4. Antioxidants and Immune System Support
Singlet oxygen can compromise the immune system, because it has the ability to catalyze production of free radicals. Astaxanthin and Spirulina have been shown to enhance both the non-specific and specific immune system, and to protect cell membranes and cellular DNA from mutation. Astaxanthin is the single most powerful quencher of singlet oxygen, and is up to ten times stronger than other carotenoids (including beta-carotene), and up to 500 times stronger than alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E), while Spirulina has a variety of antioxidants and other substances that are beneficial in boosting immunity.
5. More benefits:
While there are many ways to describe what antioxidants do inside the body, one definition of antioxidants is any substance that inhibits oxidation, especially one used to counteract the deterioration of stored food products or removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism.
Antioxidants include dozens of food-based substances you may have heard of before, such as carotenoids like beta-carotene, lycopene and vitamin C. These are several examples of antioxidants that inhibit oxidation, or reactions promoted by oxygen, peroxides and/or free radicals. (1) Research suggests that when it comes to longevity and overall health, some of the benefits of consuming antioxidant foods, herbs, teas and supplements include:
â€¢ Slower signs of aging, including of the skin, eyes, tissue, joints, heart and brain
â€¢ Healthier, more youthful, glowing skin
â€¢ Reduced cancer risk
â€¢ Detoxification support
â€¢ Longer life span
â€¢ Protection against heart disease and stroke
â€¢ Less risk for cognitive problems, such as dementia
â€¢ Reduced risk for vision loss or disorders like macular degeneration and cataracts
Antioxidants are also added to food or household products to prevent oxidation and spoilage Increasing oneâ€™s antioxidant intake is essential for optimum health, especially in todayâ€™s polluted world. Because the body just canâ€™t keep up with antioxidant production, a good amount of these vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes must come from oneâ€™s daily diet. Boosting your antioxidant intake can help provide added protection for the body against:
â€¢ Heart problems
â€¢ Eye problems
â€¢ Memory problems
â€¢ Mood disorders
â€¢ Immune system problems.
Food sources: Goji berries ,Wild blueberries ,Dark chocolate ,Pecans, Artichoke (boiled) ,Elderberries ,Kidney beans ,Cranberries ,Blackberries., Cilantro
Herbal souces: Clove ,Cinnamon:Â ,Oregano ,Turmeric ,Cocoa ,Cumin ,Parsley (dried],Basil ,Ginger ,Thyme .
Other antioxidant-rich herbs include garlic, cayenne pepper and green tea. Aim to consume two to three servings of these herbs or herbal teas daily.
GlutathioneÂ :Glutathione is considered the bodyâ€™s most important antioxidant because itâ€™s found within the cells and helps boost activities of other antioxidants or vitamins. Glutathione is a peptide consisting of three key amino acids that plays several vital roles in the body, including helping with protein use, creation of enzymes, detoxification, digestion of fats and destruction of cancer cells.
Vitamin C : Known for improving immunity, vitamin C helps protect against colds, the flu, and potentially cancer, skin and eye problems.