Antioxidants are natural or man-made chemicals that help to protect body tissues from damage by neutralizing the harmful effects of free radicals. Anti-oxidants are found naturally in many foods, especially foods and vegetables. They are also found in supplementary form.
Examples of anti oxidants and their dietary sources are listed below:
- Vitamin E (nuts, whole grains, vegetable oil, liver oil)
- Vitamic C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, green leafy, vegetables, strawberries, pineapples)
- Vitamin A (sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, prunes, squash, collards, kale, carrots, apricots)
- Beta carotene (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash)
- Selenium (brazil nuts, red meat, garlic, milk, eggs, grains, shellfish, grains)
- Flavonoids (soy, red wine, pomegranate, blueberries, cranberries, tea)
- Lignan (flaxeed, barley, rye, oats)
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are charged, highly reactive molecules produced when body cells undergo oxidation reactions. Their instability and high reactivity is as a result of unpaired electrons in their outer shells. Once released, free radicals embark on a hunt for spare electrons to stabilize their structure. And they end up latching onto electrons from body cells. Once this happens, the molecules from which electrons have been “stolen” also become a free radicals, and they in turn steal electrons from other molecules. This leads to a cascade of reactions that cause massive damage to body cells.
Examples of free radicals are the superoxide anion, hydroxyl radical, transition metals such as iron and copper, nitric acid, and ozone.
Free radicals are generated by natural and man-made processes. Examples of natural processes include exercise, inflammation, and metabolism. Examples of man-made processes include air-pollution, sunlight, x-rays, and cigarette smoke.
The damage caused by free radicals has been explained as the cause of aging and many diseases such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune diseases, cognitive decline, stroke, cancer, and eye conditions like macular degeneration.
Antioxidants to the rescue
Because it is impossible for the body to avoid free radical generation, the body uses antioxidants as the its first line of defense against the harmful effects of free radicals.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by providing them with electrons to replace the missing one in their outer shells. This stabilizes the free radicals, thereby stopping them from having to snatch electrons from unsuspecting adjacent cells. This way, antioxidants protect body cells and tissues from damage.
Due to their protective nature, antioxidants provide benefits to different parts of the body. Some of their benefits are explained below:
Skin health benefits: Exposure to high levels of ultraviolet rays from the sun induces the generation of free radicals in the skin, leading to sunburn, skin damage, skin cancer, and premature aging of the skin. Vitamin E and beta carotene help to protect the skin from these radicals.
Immune system support: Certain free radicals such as can weaken the immune system, leaving the body susceptible to disease and infections. However, antioxidants like astaxanthin and vitamin E help to keep the immune system strong by neutralizing the effects of these free radicals.
Additional benefits: Antioxidanrs also help protect against heart problems, eye problems, memory problems, mood disorders, and damage to body tissues in general.
Be sure to include antioxidant sources in your diet, so you can enjoy the protective benefits that they offer.