Most of us are aware that antioxidants are good for us. But do you know specifically what antioxidants are and why we need them?
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are natural molecules that defend the cells in your body against attack by damaging molecules called free radicals. Crucial to your health, antioxidants help prevent and fight disease and control age-related deterioration. Which brings us to free radicals and where they come from…
What are free radicals?
Your body produces free radicals during regular metabolism and energy production. A combination of oxygen and naturally occurring metal compounds in your body, they develop when you are stressed, when you exercise and when you have inflammation. Free radicals are also formed when you are exposed to toxins. According to US alternative medicine proponent Dr Joseph Mercola in his article ‘The Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants’, ‘Free radicals are a biological response to environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, sunlight, cosmic and man made radiation, and even a key feature of pharmaceutical drugs.’
There are many different types of free radicals, but all have one attribute in common – unlike normal molecules, they are missing one or more electrons and will attack anything in their path in an attempt to replace those missing parts. This process is called biological oxidation – the interaction between oxygen molecules and other substances. Free radicals do good work, killing harmful bacteria and disarming viruses, but too many can destroy healthy molecules and even damage your DNA.
The dark side of oxygen
It may sound strange that oxygen, which is so vital to life, may form part of a damaging organism. However, just as the flesh of a cut apple turns brown and metal rusts outdoors in the presence of oxygen, so our bodies are affected by oxidation. That’s the work of the oxygen-containing scavenging free radicals. And that’s the reason that you need antioxidants.
Antioxidants – the riot police
Anti-oxidants break the actions of free radicals by sacrificing or “donating” their own electrons to feed the renegade molecules, but without turning into free radicals themselves. In doing so, the anti-oxidants render the free radicals harmless.
Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of anti-oxidants and the role they play in maintaining good health and reducing your risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, osteoarthritis and cancer. Anti-oxidants also destroy toxic metals in the body (by literally ‘hugging’ them to block any chemical action taking place). Your body needs anti-oxidants to help you resist ageing, generated by everyday exposure to pollutants in your food, water and air. If you’re short on anti-oxidants, then ‘oxidative stress’ can lead to accelerated tissue and organ damage.
Where do you find antioxidants?
Your body naturally circulates various nutrients for their anti-oxidant properties and manufactures anti-oxidant enzymes to control destructive chain reactions. However, natural anti-oxidant production tends to decline with age. So it’s important to eat a wide range of anti-oxidant-rich foods – especially lots of locally grown fresh organic vegetables.
Get fresh with your diet
Fortunately, many fresh vegetables and fruits are bursting with phytochemicals that act as potent anti-oxidants. The best of these are berries, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, pomegranates, cabbage, green tea and grains such as quinoa and barley. Spices and herbs such as allspice, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary and oreganum are also good sources of antioxidants.
Try to eat moderate amounts of as many anti-oxidants as possible rather than large amounts of just one nutrient – antioxidants work best in “symphony”.
Here are five of the most powerful anti-oxidant vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients that you should consume daily:
- Beta-carotene (in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables) to fight certain cancers.
- Vitamin C (citrus fruit, kiwi, guavas, salad peppers and broccoli) to help prevent and treat heart disease, arthritis and some cancers.
- Vitamin E (olive and canola oil, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and whole grains) to fight heart disease, dementia and cataracts; and
- Selenium (Brazil nuts, lean meat, fish, chicken, grains and some vegetables) to prevent and treat lung, colon and prostate cancer, arthritis and HIV/AIDS.
- Flavonoids (soya, red wine, cranberries, blueberries and tea) to help protect blood vessels from rupture or leakage, enhance the power of vitamin C and fight inflammation.
Remember: Freshly harvested fruits and vegetables have a far more potent anti-oxidant content than those that have lain on supermarket shelves for a few days. So try to consume the majority of your fruits and vegetables raw and locally harvested.
If you feel your diet may not be supplying the anti-oxidants you need for optimum health, make sure you take a good quality anti-oxidant vitamin supplement and other supplements that contain additional phytonutrients from herbs, such as Flora Force Turmerynne™.
Reduce your intake of sugar and processed foods
Sugar places stress on your anti-oxidant molecules, making them work harder to combat the bad stuff.
Yes, exercise can also help you increase your anti-oxidants. Although exercise is regarded as a form of stress and releases free radicals, short bursts of high-intensity exercise will help improve your body’s capacity to produce endogenous anti-oxidants.
Acknowledgements & Photo credits
Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.