I’m sure that you already know that antioxidants are good for you. They have become a trendy topic when it comes to living healthy lifestyle and longevity.
Before we dive into the role antioxidants play in our health, let’s first look at their counterpart, the free radicals, and see what they are and what’s their impact on us.
What are free radicals and where do they come from?
Free radicals are unstable atoms which contain one unpaired electron in their atomic orbit. They can either donate or accept an electron from another molecule in order to stabilize, which is where their oxidative properties are originating from. Free radicals react with anything they get in contact with, damaging the molecules and altering their function. The altered molecule now, becomes unstable itself, affecting other molecules, leading to a chain reaction and creating even more free radicals. The oxidation of bio-molecules done by free radicals can lead to cell death and tissue injury.
Free radicals are byproducts of our normal metabolic processes, breathing and other vital functions. Our body also creates them under the influence of external factors, like X-rays, smoking cigarettes, alcohol, fried and processed foods, using medications and antibiotics, emotional or physical stress, ozone, air pollutants, and industrial chemicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive, and they attack important macromolecules in our body, such as proteins, lipids, enzymes and DNA. They cause cell damage and disrupt the natural homeostasis in our bodies, triggering many human diseases.
Although, they are very dangerous, they also play important role in our immune system. Our liver produces and uses them in the process of detoxification, and our white blood cells send them to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
When, the chain reaction process of creating free radicals continues to happen for prolonged period, the body gets into state of oxidative stress.
Normally, there is a balance of antioxidants and free radicals in our body. The condition of oxidative stress occurs when there is critical imbalance between the two. When this happens, free radicals are damaging wide variety of molecules in our body, including lipids, enzymes, and our DNA. The oxidation of these molecule causes change in their structure, which furthermore impacts their function. Many studies conducted in the last few years, link oxidative stress to many diseases, like:
- Central nervous system diseases (Alzheimer’s);
- Cardiovascular diseases due to clogged arteries;
- Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases (Arthritis and Cancer);
- Cataracts and age related vision decline;
- Leaky gut;
- Genetic degenerative diseases (Huntington’s and Parkinson’s);
- Age-related appearance changes (Wrinkles, Hair Loss, Gray Hair).
What are antioxidants and their impact on our health?
Antioxidants are stable molecules which have the ability to donate electron to the already unstable free radicals and neutralize their function. Through their interaction with free radicals they can prevent the damage of important molecules and cells within our body. Some of the antioxidants can be produced by our bodies during the process of metabolism, while others are found in many nutrients contained in the food we consume.
Types of antioxidants
As I mentioned, some of the antioxidants in our body are produced during the process of metabolism in our body. This includes glutathione, ubiquinol, uric acid, and melatonin. The antioxidants that we ingest through our food are B-Carotene, and Vitamins A, C and E.
- Glutathione – Glutathione is one of the most important cell antioxidants. It helps maintaining oxidative balance in the cells, removing free radicals in the liver, as well as in removing toxins from the body (directly removes mercury and Persistent Organic Pollutants). Many studies show that reduced levels of glutathione aid in inducing several diseases like cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, heart, liver and metabolic diseases, aging, and HIV;
- Ubiquinol – In addition to aiding in converting food into energy, ubiquinol is one of the strongest antioxidants that helps in removing the free radicals found in the cells mitochondria.
- Uric Acid – Although high concentration of uric acid is associated with developing gout and renal calculi, and possible production of free radicals, there are studies which suggest that acute elevation of uric acid has important role as an antioxidant, especially in neuro-degenerative diseases, like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and acute stroke;
- Melatonin – Melatonin has ability to fight both, oxygen and nitrogen-based free radicals directly. Also, it has indirect impact by stimulating production of antioxidant enzymes. Being highly concentrated in the mitochondria, where the cell metabolism happens, it is also known as a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant.
- B-Carotene – It’s photo protective properties, aid in the protection of ultraviolet induced carcinogens. Another way that B-Carotene helps in cancer prevention is by altering the way the liver metabolises the carcinogens;
- Vitamin A – Vitamin A is very powerful antioxidant which plays important role in maintaining good vision, neurological function, skin protection, and fighting inflammation. It can be found in active form, called retinol, and the body can also convert B-Carotene and other carotenoids into retinol.
- Vitamin C – The antioxidant abilities of Vitamin C are originating from its ability to reduce and neutralize free radicals. In addition to its antioxidant properties, Vitamin C improves the immune system and speeds up the detoxification of liver enzymes;
- Vitamin E – Vitamin E is very important antioxidant that plays huge role in protecting the antibodies, resisting bacterial infections, and repairing the membranes in DNA.
Levels of antioxidant action
- Preventative – this is the first life of defense which helps in suppression of formation of free radicals;
- Scavenger – this action is pointed towards looking for already existing free radicals and breaking the chain of reaction they had caused;
- Repair – the third line of action aids in removing of already oxidized proteins and help in repair of damaged DNA;
- Adaptation – this line of action is being activated when there is a signal for production and reaction of certain free radicals, which induces the production and transportation of the appropriate antioxidants to the place where the free radicals and causing damage.
Natural sources of antioxidants
The best way to pack your body with antioxidants is through eating foods and spices which are rich in antioxidants. Below are the lists of 10 foods and spices which you can add to your nutrition, to help you reduce the damage of free radicals and fight inflammation.
15 Foods Rich in Antioxidants
- Indian Gooseberry
- Acai Berry
- Rose Hips
- Dark Chocolate
- Wild Bilberries
- Black Raspberries
- Black Chia Seeds
- Red Kidney Beans
- Black Beans
- Raw Pistachios
15 Spices Rich in Antioxidants
- Dried Oregano
- Dried Rosemary
- Dried Peppermint Leaves
- Dried Thyme
- Ground Cinnamon
- Ground Turmeric
- Ground Sage
- All Spice
- Dried Parsley
- Ground Nutmeg
- Dried Basil
- Cocoa Powder
- Cumin Seed Spice
- Ground Ginger
Best ways to reduce the damage of free radicals
- Eat more foods rich in antioxidants
- Avoid excess exercise
- Reduce stress
- Use natural cosmetic and cleaning products
- Avoid using medications and antibiotics
Free radicals have huge impact on our natural aging process, age-related diseases, and inflammation. Focusing on eating foods abundant in antioxidants, as well as developing healthy lifestyle habits, can reduce the damage free radicals are causing, lower the risk of developing free radical induced diseases, slower the aging process, and aid to our health and longevity.