You will not be wrong if you label antioxidants as the superheroes of the new age. Wellness is of the utmost importance these days. Hence, we prefer going to spas, wellness resorts and supplementing our diet with green vegetables, green tea, oats and what not. The hoopla surrounding antioxidants being superheroes started way back in the 90s when scientists found out that free radical damage was found in early stages of atherosclerosis and as many as 60 diseases.
It was also proposed that free radicals can also damage our natural cells causing diseases. Doctors all over the world have acknowledged the importance of antioxidants for health. In this article, you will learn why antioxidants are good for you. When they are consumed in an appropriate amount, they can prevent diseases and infections. As an added benefit you can lose weight by regular consumption.
What Is Oxidation?
Oxidation is a chemical process that involves loss of electrons from an atom or molecule or the addition of oxygen to an atom or molecule. For example, rusting of iron, apple slices turning brown are examples of oxidation processes. However, oxidation reactions are not just common in the environment.
These responses are also part of our biological reactions. The breaking down of food in our stomach, transportation and using of energy to carry out internal processes like repairing of muscles, tissues, and the creation of new cells, etc. all involves oxidation. Oxidation is a fundamental process of our system and every second our cells are actively engaged in directing oxidation reactions. This natural process can damage our chemicals and even change your DNA. Although, some cells can repair themselves, some suffer permanent damage.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are essentially formed due to a split in the weak bonds. They are very unstable and react with other compounds to gain stability. This starts a chain reaction, as every attacked molecule has to gain stability and it steals an electron from another molecule. This chain reaction finally results in a disruption of cells. These free radicals can happen during any reaction like in metabolic processes or immune system. If these reactions happen in our immune system, then they can create viruses and bacteria weakening our immune system.
Free radicals can also result due to environmental factors. Our body is capable of handling free radicals. However, if antioxidants are not available, damage can occur. These free radicals can also increase our risk of diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.
Primarily, free radicals have a safe house called cell membranes. However, these cell membranes become brittle and leaky because of their presence. When this happens, the cells eventually end up dying a losing battle. This is not the only damage; they can also manipulate DNA, reacting with DNA bases. Damage can also occur due to free radical as we age. Surprisingly, the oxygen which is so important for our health is also the cause of our death. Without oxygen, we will die in a matter of minutes and because of oxygen, our tissue will get damaged.
Types Of Free Radicals
There are five types of free radicals; free radicals are reactive oxygen or ROS and reactive nitrogen or ROS (NO).
- Singlet oxygen: This single molecule of oxygen can oxidize LDL which is necessarily bad cholesterol. This oxidized LDL can then react with surrounding tissues and cause risk to arteries. It can enter the inner lining of any artery like carotid or coronary artery. This in turn, leads to a thick plaque formation restricting blood flow to one or more parts of the body. Simply put, it can put our heart at risk.
- Superoxide ion: It is called a superoxide ion as it has an extra electron. The presence of an extra electron can cause damage to mitochondria and DNA
- Hydroxyl radical: A hydroxyl radical is highly reactive. It can destroy almost every molecule surrounding it. It puts carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and DNA at risk.
- Reactive nitrogen species: Reactive nitrogen is derived from NO and superoxide. This free radical can react with proteins and change the structure of amino acids. It can also modify hemoglobin. The changes in protein structure can damage the cell signals and alter enzymatic activities.
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Although it is not a free radical by itself, it can convert to a hydroxyl radical which can damage other cells and tissues. However, the presence of hydrogen peroxide can be subdued by peroxides.
What Are Antioxidants?
Now, we will see why antioxidants are good for you. Antioxidants are the way our cells are provided with defense against attack from free radicals. As long as we have antioxidants in our system, our body can resist genetic damage. Free radicals resulting from oxidation can damage our cells and cells as a preservation mechanism produce antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that can protect cells from free radical damage which can occur from our natural metabolic processes or environmental factors.
In scientific terms, antioxidants are electron donors. They donate their electrons to their evil free radical enemy. The free radicals end up becoming stabilized, and they remain as is, without changing themselves to free radicals. Various food items like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, meats, poultry, and fish, includes antioxidants. Junk foods like pizza, burgers are highly processed and tend to be much lower in antioxidants. Another good source of antioxidants is Green Tea. The most unexpected antioxidants include coffee, tea, chocolate and even wine.
Vitamins like Vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene are sources of antioxidants. Citrus fruits contain antioxidants that may prevent many health issues. According to a recent study, citrus fruits can maintain blood pressure, lower the risk of a stroke and enhance the health of our heart.
Important Benefits Of Antioxidants
A regular consumption of antioxidants is good to increase resistance and prevent chances of heart attack. It can also lower chances of cancer. Regular consumption of multi-colored vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits can aid your immune system to fight against aging and diseases. Some benefits of antioxidants are revealed below.
Reason #1 – Repairing Of Damaged Molecules
Some antioxidants can repair critical tissues, molecules. Antioxidants are electron donors; they can donate hydrogen atoms to repair damaged tissues.
Reason #2 – Shield DNA
Flavonoids act as a shield against harmful free radicals. They can attach to the free radicals and prevent any impending free radical attacks.
Reason #3 – Self-Destruction In Cancer Cells
Antioxidants are also beneficial against cancer. They can halt the cancerous growth of cells and force them to commit suicide or destroy themselves.
Reason #4 – Preventing Free Radical Production
Some antioxidants can also bind with toxic metals like mercury, arsenic. This binding prevents the toxic metals to react any further.
Reason #5 – Skin Benefits
UV ray is harmful to our skin as oxidative damage is caused by the sun rays. This kind of damage can harm lipids, DNA, and proteins. It can also cause diseases like skin cancer, aging of the skin, sunburn, Antioxidants like beta-carotene, Vitamin E, Astaxanthin are well-known combinations to combat skin from reactive oxygen.
Reason #6 – Boost Immune System
A type of free radical system called singlet oxygen can contain the production of free radicals. For example, antioxidants like Astaxanthin and Spirulina can boost the immune system and protect cell membranes and DNA mutation.
Reason #7 – Protection Of Body Against Different Diseases
For example, heart, eye, immune system disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, obesity.
Types Of Antioxidants
There are several antioxidants, and it could lead to confusion among people on which antioxidants should be taken for which purpose. Antioxidants are soluble either in fats or water. Fats and water are both necessary in the body for cushioning our cells, as cell membranes are made of fats, and the interior structure of a cell contains water. As free radicals can react with water or fat, both antioxidants are required for full protection.
- Fat soluble antioxidants: They are needed to prevent the accumulation of free radicals in cell membranes. Some well-known examples of fat-soluble antioxidants are Carotenoids, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E.
- Water Soluble Antioxidants: These can be found in the fluids within the cell or blood. Some common examples of these antioxidants are Vitamin C and polyphenols.
In terms of their size there are:
- Large protein antioxidants which can absorb reactive oxygen free radicals and prevent an attack on protein. One typical example of this antioxidant is Albumin.
- Small molecule antioxidants which can hunt the oxygen free radicals and neutralize them. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, carotenoids are common examples of these type of antioxidants.
There are other types of antioxidants like Enzymatic and NonEnzymatic antioxidants as well.
- Enzymatic antioxidants are found in cells and fluids in our body. The liver also contains an enzyme called Glutathione peroxidase and Glutathione Reductase which can break down peroxides like hydrogen peroxides.
- Non-Enzymatic Antioxidants are those which can break the destructive chain reaction of free radicals. The common examples are Vitamin C, Polyphenols, Glutathione and Vitamin E. These can be found in dietary supplements. They can complement enzymatic antioxidants by removing the free radicals from our body and preventing the enzymatic antioxidants from depleting.
Must Have Antioxidants
Antioxidants available in our body:
Antioxidants found in food items or supplements:
- Vitamin C;
- Vitamin E;
Foods Rich In Antioxidants
When it comes to nutrients, it is best to obtain them from fresh food rather than dietary supplements. By consuming a balanced diet, your body can maintain good health. There are many naturally available food items which are rich in antioxidants like:
- Vegetables: The green vegetables are sources of phytochemicals that can eliminate free radicals. To maximize the effect of vegetables, it is best to consume them fresh and in raw form. They can be consumed in salads or juice form. Tomato, carrots can also be juiced to reap the benefit of lycopene and beta-carotene. Sprouts are another good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Fruits: Various fruits like mango, grapes, and berries are good sources of antioxidants. They are also a good source of other nutrients like potassium, iron, vitamin C, However; fruits should not be consumed after any meal. It is advised to have 2-3 servings of fruits before your meal to take maximum benefit. Also, as fruits contain fructose, eating in moderation is better than over consumption. Citrus fruits like orange are also recommended as they can battle free radicals and protect tissues and organs from damage. Kiwi is also a good source of carotenoids which
- Nuts: Nuts can give not only your skin a glow but also boost your health. They are amazing antioxidant food items. However, they should also be taken in fresh and raw form.
- Green Tea: 5-6 cups of green tea are not just recommended to lose weight but also to lower the risk of stroke, high cholesterol, They are excellent sources of polyphenol and EGCG. Having moderate consumption of green tea can improve metabolism and overall performance of your body.
- Spices: Put a flavor in your regular food with herbs and spices like cloves, cinnamons, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and oregano.
- Other food items like soy, red wine, whole grains, broccoli, kale, flax seeds, oats are important sources of antioxidants.
Apart from dietary changes, lifestyle changes are also recommended to maximize the effects of antioxidants. There are habits like smoking which aid free radical formation. A failure to stop these habits can increase the risk of antioxidants to a higher level and diseases. Sugar is found in almost all the processed food items today like bread, cakes, etc.
Aim to reduce sugar consumption to a minimum level to avoid putting stress on your body. Other lifestyle changes like regular 30-60 minutes of exercise, following clean habits, avoiding smoking and drinking, ample sleep, managing stress can put less tension on your body and keep your organs working properly.
Now that you know why are antioxidants good for you remember to consume them every day. Antioxidants can cure a lot of problems; however, moderation is the key. The consumption of antioxidants can be a part of the protection from any damage, but they cannot cure any illnesses.