What Are Antioxidants?

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I’ve mentioned antioxidants many times throughout these health and nutrition posts. Sometimes, I’ll cover what they are, and other times, I’ll skate right through them. But I never dedicated an entire post to them. So, if you’re still not sure what antioxidants are, why they’re important, or where to find them, then let this be your guide to the most powerful health defenders!

Antioxidants 101

According to Medical News Today, antioxidants are described as “substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures.” [1] Sometimes, they’re known as “free-radical scavengers.” And the effects of free radicals are called “oxidative stress” or “oxidative damage.” They act by stealing electrons from cells, which damages DNA, enzymes (proteins), and membranes. [2] Once this happens, a domino-like effect ripples throughout the body, leading to more damage and inflammation, which are the perfect setup for aging and disease. The side effects of free radical damage include: 

  • Cancer
  • Lupus
  • Inflammation
  • Autoimmune Disease
  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Wrinkles
  • Skin disorders
  • Sun damage
  • Grey hair
  • Hair loss
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s
  • Huntington’s
  • Dementia
  • Emphysema
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Liver damage
  • Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle and Joint Pain
  • Brain Fog
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Weak immune system (i.e., frequent infections, colds, flu, etc.)

[3] [4] 

Free radical damage can happen from ultraviolet (UV) rays from tanning beds and sunlight, pollution, toxins, smoking (including second hand), alcohol, infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasite), processed and fried foods, radiation, excessive exercise, heavy metals, drugs, and genetic disorders involving dysfunctional or broken cells. [5]

Benefits

With there being so many sources of free radicals, you might think it’s game over at this point. Wrong! Remember, nature has our back. With antioxidants, we can limit or stop free radical damage right in its tracks. Remember when I mentioned that free radicals like to steal electrons from cells? What antioxidants do is “lend” electrons to them to keep the cells from getting damaged. However, there are two things to mention about this kind of donation.

The first is that antioxidants are not bulletproof. In fact, in some cases, they too can turn on us and take away electrons from other places, which in and of itself creates oxidative stress. Secondly is that there is a variety of antioxidants, each with their own unique functions that take place in different areas of the body. Which is why fighting free radicals is very complicated. [6]

Still, most health professionals can agree that antioxidants play a vital role in health, longevity, and disease prevention. The research is always evolving, and there’s still so much we have to understand about them. In the meantime, here is a shortlist of benefits that come from antioxidants:

  • Better immunity
  • Healthy hair, skin, and nails
  • Eye health
  • Gut health (antioxidant-rich foods act as prebiotics, or food, for good bacteria)
  • Longevity (quality and quantity when it comes to getting old- think living longer without getting sick and suffering from aches, pains, and decline)
  • Disease Prevention

[7] [8] [9] [10] [11]

Types

There are many types of antioxidants. While I can’t put all of them here (that would be overkill), here’s just a shortlist:

Glutathione (the “Master” antioxidant)
Quercetin,
Anthocyanins
Beta-Carotene and Retinol (Vitamin A)
Vitamin C
Vitamin E
Lycopene
Lutein
Polyphenols
Selenium
Manganese
Catalase
CoQ10 (coenzyme Q10)
Lignans
Flavonoids
Isothiocyanates
Resveratrol
Tannins
Curcumin
ECGC (epigallocatechin gallate)

[12] 

Foods Vs. Supplements

 Just as there are many different kinds of antioxidants, there’s also a variety of sources to find them. Now, a lot of people assume that all they need is a supplement to cover their bases. Unfortunately, this isn’t so simple. You can’t copy (or trick) nature. Research shows that antioxidants from whole foods are the most effective. [13] Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, giving businesses the chance to say whatever they want to say and not even include the right ingredients into their product. For all you know, you could be taking a sugar pill! Not only that, but certain antioxidants can interact with medications or increase disease risk.

Remember what I said before? You can get too much of a good thing! If the supplement company does provide an actual source of antioxidants, you could be mega-dosing and causing more harm than good. For instance, high amounts of beta-carotene increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Unless you overdose on carrots, you wouldn’t have to worry about that. Not if you’re taking a supplement that’s equal to pounds of carrots in pill form! [14] 

To put the nail in the coffin, the National Cancer Institute does not support antioxidant supplements. None of the research they’ve found shows any promising results. While they believe in the preventative effects of antioxidant foods, the same cannot be said for supplements. As they state, “Until more is known about the effects of antioxidant supplements in cancer patients, these supplements should be used with caution. Cancer patients should inform their doctors about their use of any dietary supplement.” [15]

Sources of Antioxidants

We’re right at the end, guys! Let’s cap things off with a list of natural sources of antioxidants. Thanks for sticking this far with me and let me know your thoughts as well as favorite antioxidants!

Matcha
Kale
Spinach
Red Cabbage
Beets
Tomatoes
Purple or Orange Sweet Potatoes
Squash
Carrots
Beans
Chocolate (raw cacao)
Astaxanthin (krill oil, wild salmon, shrimp, crab, lobsters, microalgae)
Strawberries
Blueberries
Raspberries
Pomegranate
Goji Berries
Blackberries
Sea Buckthorn
Cranberries
Purple or Red Grapes
Artichoke
Cloves
Mint
Cinnamon
Allspice
Oregano
Thyme
Sage
Rosemary
Saffron
Turmeric
Pecan
Walnuts
Hazelnuts
Flaxseeds
Red Wine 

[16] [17] [18]

Sources:

[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301506.php
[2] https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2013/january2013/fighting-free-radicals-do-you-need-antioxidants
[3] https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html
[4] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318652.php
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4310837/
[6] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8227682
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23135663
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929555/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452251/
[11] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070908001613.htm
[12] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/10/antioxidants-explained-why-these-compounds-are-so-important/247311/
[13] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants
[14] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants
[15] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/antioxidants-fact-sheet
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/
[17] https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-06/aas-lus061504.php
[18] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325873.php

Source: Zuzka Light

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