Eric Bakker N.D.October 9, 2022

Antioxidants are compounds that protect your cells from free radicals, which can cause heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses. When your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation, free radicals are created.

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Antioxidants

Antioxidants are essential compounds that play a vital role in maintaining health by neutralizing harmful free radicals in the body. Understanding what an antioxidant is and how it functions can help us appreciate its significance in our daily lives. I like to stress that  “Taking care of your health is about understanding the building blocks of wellness, and antioxidants are one of those critical pieces.”

Understanding Antioxidants

Definition and Function

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage cells, leading to various diseases. By preventing oxidation, antioxidants help maintain cellular health and overall well-being.

“Think of antioxidants as your body’s defense team, always ready to neutralize the bad guys.”

How Antioxidants Work

Antioxidants work by donating an electron to free radicals without becoming destabilized themselves, thereby neutralizing the free radicals and preventing them from causing further damage. This process helps protect the body from oxidative stress, which is linked to aging and numerous health conditions. “It’s like giving a spare part to a malfunctioning machine to keep it running smoothly,” Eric explains.

The Role of Antioxidants in the Body

How Antioxidants Combat Free Radicals

Free radicals are generated naturally in the body through metabolic processes and external factors like pollution, radiation, and cigarette smoke. These unstable molecules can cause oxidative stress, leading to cell damage. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, reducing their potential harm and contributing to better health. Eric might add, “It’s about maintaining balance in your body—keeping those pesky free radicals in check.”

Types of Antioxidants

There are several types of antioxidants, each with unique

Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables, essential for immune function and skin health.
Vitamin E: Protects cell membranes from oxidative damage and supports immune function.
Selenium: A trace mineral that plays a crucial role in antioxidant defense.
Flavonoids: Plant compounds with antioxidant properties found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.

To my thinking: “It’s like having a diverse team, each member bringing their own strengths to the table. Each type has its own special job in keeping you healthy.”

Benefits of Antioxidants

The benefits of antioxidants are extensive. They help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, improve skin health, and support immune function. Regular intake of antioxidant-rich foods can lead to better overall health and well-being.

“Think of antioxidants as your health insurance—protecting you from the inside out”

Sources of Antioxidants

Dietary Sources

Many foods are rich in antioxidants, making it easy to incorporate them into your diet. Some of the best sources include:
Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, and apples.
Vegetables: Dark leafy greens, carrots, and bell peppers.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, and brown rice.

“Nature provides us with a bounty of antioxidant-rich foods,” In my opinion “It’s up to us to make the right choices and include them in our diets.”

Supplement Sources

While a balanced diet is the best way to obtain antioxidants, supplements can provide additional support, especially if dietary intake is insufficient. Common antioxidant supplements include vitamins C and E, selenium, and various plant-based extracts. Dietary supplements can be a helpful backup plan, but they shouldn’t replace a healthy diet.

Antioxidants and Health 

Antioxidants in Disease Prevention

Research suggests that antioxidants can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders by reducing oxidative stress. By neutralizing free radicals, antioxidants help protect cells from damage that can lead to these conditions. “It’s all about prevention—keeping your body fortified against potential threats,” Eric explains.

 Benefits of Antioxidants in Aging

Antioxidants are believed to play a role in slowing the aging process. They reduce age-related damage at the cellular level, promoting overall health and longevity. Incorporating antioxidants into your diet can help maintain youthful skin, improve cognitive function, and enhance physical vitality.

“Aging gracefully involves taking care of your body from the inside out. Remember antioxidants are a key part of that process.”

Practical Tips for Increasing Antioxidant Intake

To boost your antioxidant intake:

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Aim for colorful produce to ensure a range of antioxidants.
Incorporate nuts and seeds into your diet:They are great sources of vitamins E and selenium.

Consider supplements if necessary: Especially if your diet lacks sufficient antioxidant-rich foods.

Stay informed: Keep up with the latest research on antioxidants and their health benefits to make informed dietary choices.

By following these tips, you can easily increase your intake and enjoy the numerous health benefits they offer. “Taking small steps every day can lead to significant health improvements over time,

“Start today and make antioxidants a priority in your diet.”

What Are Antioxidants Good For?

To counteract oxidative stress, the body produces an armoury of antioxidants to defend itself. It’s the job of antioxidants to neutralise or ‘mop up’ free radicals that can harm our cells. Your body’s ability to produce them (its metabolic process) is controlled by your genetic makeup and influenced by your exposure to environmental factors such as diet and smoking.

Changes in our lifestyles which include more environmental pollution and less quality in our diets, mean that we are exposed to more free radicals than ever before. Theycan be rated too, you may like to check out  the ORAC Rating to see which fruits and vegetables have the highest antioxidant value

Slowing Down the Aging Process

One of the most exciting benefits of antioxidants is their potential to slow down the aging process. Free radicals contribute significantly to the aging process by damaging cells and DNA. By neutralizing these free radicals, antioxidants can reduce the wear and tear on your body’s cells, helping you maintain a more youthful appearance and vitality.

Aging is a natural process, but how you age is within your control.”

Dosage

Your body’s internal production of antioxidants is not enough to neutralise all the free radicals. You can help your body to defend itself by increasing your dietary intake of them though. By eating three serves of vegetables daily and two servings of fruit, you are well on your way to getting plenty of them. By taking an antioxidant  dietary supplement along with such a diet, you are ensuring you have no deficit in them.

Food-Based Antioxidants

Many foods are rich in antioxidants, particularly brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly, chocolate and tea also contain significant amounts.

 Vitamins

Vitamin E: Found in vegetable oils (such as wheatgerm oil), avocados, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Vitamin C: Found in oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum, and strawberries.
Beta-carotene: Found in pumpkin, cantaloupe, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach, and parsley.

 Trace Elements

Selenium: Found in seafood, organ meats, lean meat, whole grains, and Brazil nuts.
Copper: Found in oysters, shellfish, lean and organ meats, beans, milk, and nuts.

Zinc: Found in seafood, pumpkin seeds, lean meat, eggs, whole grains, milk, and nuts.
Manganese: Found in seafood, lean meat, soybeans, leafy vegetables, pepper, milk, and nuts.

 Non-Nutrients

Ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q): Found in various foods.
Phenolic Compounds: Includes phytoestrogens, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), used as a food preservative.

 Other Compounds

Allium Sulphur Compounds: Found in garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, and chives.
Anthocyanins: Found in eggplant, red grapes, black plums, cherries, and berries.
Catechins: Found in red wine, green tea, black tea, oolong tea, broad beans, and cocoa.
Cryptoxanthins:  Found in red capsicum, oranges, papaya, maize, pumpkin, and mangoes.
Flavonoids: Found in tea, green tea, chocolate, citrus fruits, red wine, onions, and apples.
Indoles: Found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Isoflavonoids: Found in soybeans, chickpeas, pistachios, tofu, lentils, peas, and milk.
Lignans: Found in sesame seeds, bran, berries, beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
Lutein: Found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, egg yolks, and corn.
Lycopene: Found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, pink guava, and watermelon.
Polyphenols:  Found in thyme, oregano, cocoa, nuts, flaxseeds, olives, and berries.
Vitamin A: Found in liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, red bell pepper, and egg yolks.
Zoochemicals:  Found in red meat, offal, and fish; they are animal equivalents of phytochemicals found in plants.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes owe their red color to a pigment called lycopene, which is also a powerful antioxidant. This pigment is abundant in all forms of tomatoes, including canned tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato juice, and even ketchup. Besides tomatoes, lycopene is highly concentrated in watermelon as well.

Citrus fruits

Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes possess many natural substances that appear to be important in disease protection, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, terpenes, limonoids and coumarins.Together these phytochemicals act more powerfully than if they were given separately. It’s always better to eat the fruit whole in its natural form, because some of the potency is lost when the juice is extracted.

Tea

Black tea, green tea and oolong teas have antioxidant properties. All three varieties come from the plant Camellia sinenis. Common brands of black tea do contain antioxidants, but by far the most potent source is green tea (jasmine tea) which contains the antioxidant catechin. Black tea has only 10 per cent as many antioxidants as green tea. Oolong tea has 40 per cent as many as green tea. This because some of the catechins are destroyed when green tea is processed (baked and fermented) to make black tea.

Carrots

 

Scientists isolated beta-carotene, an orange pigment, from carrots 150 years ago. It is concentrated in deep orange and green vegetables, where green chlorophyll masks the orange pigment. Researchers have frequently discussed beta-carotene, an antioxidant, in connection with lung cancer rates. The evidence remains conflicting, as one study showed an increase in risk. However, researchers continue to investigate whether it has a protective effect.

Disease Protection

Studies have shown that people who eat a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables are less likely to get diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Scientists have not yet proven that antioxidants alone are responsible for this drop in risk. For example, researchers have found it difficult to conduct and interpret studies on the effect of diet on cancer.Even so, there is now a good body of evidence to indicate the protective effect of fruit and vegetables on many common cancers, including those of colon, breast and bladder.

Summary of Key Points

Antioxidants are crucial for neutralizing free radicals and protecting the body from oxidative stress. Understanding what an antioxidant is and their benefits highlights their importance in maintaining health. A diet rich in these foods is essential for reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall well-being. Knowledge is power—knowing how they work can help you make better health choices!

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