Antioxidants, sometimes called “free-radical scavengers”, are substances that inhibit or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals or unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to oxidation and the environment.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals, leading to chain reactions that damage the cell.
Free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), are highly unstable molecules naturally formed when you exercise. They form as the body converts food to energy and reacts to the environment. Factors that increase the production of free radicals in the body can be internal, like inflammation. Factors can also be external, like air pollution, UV exposure and cigarette smoke. An imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body leads to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress play a role in a variety of diseases. They include heart disease, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. In most cases, free radicals outnumber the antioxidants naturally produced in the body. This is why the continual intake of external sources of antioxidants is necessary in order to obtain the maximum benefits of antioxidants.
There are activities and processes that cause oxidation (production of free radicals). They include radiation, tissue damage, excessive exercise, consumption of certain foods. They also include refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives. Furthermore, exposure to chemicals and high levels of UV light, in turn, lead to excessive formation of free irons and different types of reactive oxygen species, resulting in significant damage to cell structures.
Foods with antioxidants
Antioxidants prohibit or help to neutralise free radicals in the body. This boosts overall health. There is a wide range of substances that can act as antioxidants. Each has its own function and provide benefits to different parts of the body. They are not interchangeable with one another. Hence, this stresses the importance of having a varied diet.
The sources of antioxidants can be natural or artificial. However, the best sources are plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Examples of antioxidants are beta-carotene (and other carotenoids), lycopene and proanthocyanidins, flavonoids, flavones, catechins, polyphenols, phytoestrogens and vitamins A, C and E.
Different antioxidants are beneficial to different parts of the body. For instance, Astaxanthin, 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 oxygen species caused by exposure of the skin to highs level of ultraviolet light. Beta-carotene (and other carotenoids) is also beneficial to the eye.
Flavonoids, like other antioxidants, work by locking-up cell-damaging free radicals and metallic ions. Some flavonoids exhibit antihistamine, antimicrobial, memory, and even mood-enhancing properties. Among the many benefits attributed to flavonoids are the reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, asthma and stroke. They may play a special role in protecting the brain. Lycopene exhibits a protective effect in terms of lowering the risks of developing heart disease and to an extent. It also protects the skin against the damaging effects of UV light. Lycopene is beneficial for helping maintain prostate health as it also protects against cancers of the lungs, breasts and kidneys.
Antioxidants counteract oxidative stress in laboratory experiments. According to one study,
“Antioxidants act as a radical scavenger, hydrogen donor, electron donor, peroxide decomposer, singlet oxygen quencher, an enzyme inhibitor, synergist and metal-chelating agents.”
Increasing your antioxidant intake can help provide added protection for the body against heart, eye, memory and immune system problems. However, there is debate as to whether consuming large amounts of antioxidants in supplement form actually benefits health. There is also some concern that consuming antioxidant supplements in excessive doses may be harmful.
Due to the high level of pollutants in the world today, it is highly important that antioxidants be an ample part of one’s diet for optimum health. A good amount of these vitamins, phytochemicals, phytonutrients, enzymes and minerals must come from the daily diet since the body cannot produce enough antioxidants to fight against the free radicals.