What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are natural substances found mainly in vegetables, fruits, nuts and spices that help prevent or reduce oxidation which occurs at the cellular levels. They do this by removing "free radicals", which, if left alone could oxidize cells – leading to inflammation and chronic diseases like diabetes, joint diseases, atherosclerosis, cancer, dementia and degenerative eye diseases. These harmful chemicals also accelerate the aging process.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron in an atom's outer shell. Being chemically unstable, they are highly reactive and able to cause damage to cells in the body. Some researchers believe that aging occurs because cells accumulate free radical damage over time.
The main contributing factors to excess free radicals in the body are eating the wrong food, stress, pollutants, smoking, over exposure to ultra violet light and harmful bacteria.
The intake of certain prescription drugs and chemotherapy are also linked to free radical formation in the body.
Foods high in free radicals include oil and fats (when heated to high temperature like in frying) overcooked meats and processed meats.
Eating too much sugary foods that cause the blood sugar to spike could also lead to an increase in this harmful chemical in the body
How Antioxidants Prevent Chronic Diseases and Aging?
Antioxidants prevent aging by neutralizing and removing free radicals in the body responsible for causing damage to body tissues. In doing so, they help prevent or slow down the impact of chronic diseases and also the aging process.
Are all Antioxidants the same?
Though the chemical role of antioxidants in the body are quite similar, some antioxidants are known to provide added benefits to specific parts of the body. For examples: flavonoids protects the heart; beta carotene protects the eyes; lycopene benefits the prostrate gland; and, proanthocyanidine contribute to urinary tract health
It is also well established that some antioxidants are more powerful in their actions than others. For example food astaxanthin is reputed to be 500 times more powerful than Vitamin E.
Sources of Antioxidants
The food sources for antioxidants are as follows:
a) Vegetables – carrots, tomatoes, broccolli, spinach, kale, antichoke, sweet potatoes, beetroot and cilantro
b) Fruits – blue berries, grapes, cranberries, elderberries, black berries apples, water melon, wolfberry and citrus fruits
c) Nuts and Seeds – pecans, walnuts, peanuts, kidney beans and flaxseed
d) Beverages – red wine, green tea, cocoa
e) Spices – clove, turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, basil and ginger
The foods listed above are not exhaustive but indicate the more popular ones that are rich in antioxidants.
Vitamins A, C and E are among the well known antioxidants while the trace elements selenium, zinc and copper are known for supporting the anti-oxidizing system in the body.
Other antioxidants that are popular for their heath benefits include:
a) Curcumin – protection against cancer, Alzheimer's, heart diseases and arthritis
b) CoQ10 – helps those with heart problems, Parkinson's Disease, hypertension and chronic fatigue syndrome.
c) Glutathione – helps the body produce enzymes, detoxification, digestion of fats and destruction of cancer cells.
d) Lutein and Zeaxanthin – prevents cataracts and macula degeneration
e) Quecetin – supports the heart, fights chronic fatigue syndrome and arthritis
f) Astaxanthin – reduces the chronic effect of diseases including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure
Are Supplements Necessary?
Getting your antioxidants from natural sources is better due to the complex mix of phytonutrients that you can get from fruits, vegetables, nuts and spices that you may not get from supplements. However, if getting these health giving nutrients from natural sources is a problem or if specific antioxidants are needed for managing certain health problems, supplements can still be of much help.
I hope this article has given you a good overview of antioxidants and the role they play in preventing annd healing chronic diseases.