Antioxidants are frequently mentioned in everyday conversations. You also find antioxidant supplements on store shelves, and their health benefits are beloved by both marketers and the media. However, not many people actually know what they are and how they work. The concept of antioxidants is fairly complex so I would like to explain it in simple terms for better understanding.
So What Is Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that fight damage by free radicals, the unstable molecules that can harm cellular structures. Antioxidants do this by giving electrons to the free radicals and neutralizing them.
Antioxidants And Free Radicals Are Both Important
Free radicals are constantly being formed during metabolism. Without antioxidants, they would destroy our bodies fast. However, it is important to keep in mind that free radicals also serve important functions that are essential for survival too. E.g. your immune cells use free radicals to kill bacteria that try to infect us.
As with so many things in the body, we need a certain balance… we need the right amount of free radicals, and the right amount of antioxidants to keep them in check. When this balance gets disrupted, things start to go wrong.
When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, this leads to oxidative stress (which is a distributive unbalance between Free radicals and Antioxidants) during oxidative stress, important molecules in the body can become severely damaged. sometimes even leading to the cell itself dying.
A lot of stress factors and lifestyle habits are well known to promote excessive free radical formation and oxidative stress:
High blood Sugar Levels
Consuming Large Amounts Of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Radiation Including Sunbathing A Lot
Infections By Bacteria, Fungi or Viruses
Too Much Oxygen In The Body
Excessive Intake of Iron, Magnesium, Copper and Zinc
Too Much Oxygen In The Body
Intense And Prolonged Exercise, Which Causes Tissue Damage
Excessive Intake of Antioxidants, Such As Vitamins C And E
Prolonged oxidative stress leads to increased risk of negative health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. It also contributes to the ageing process.
Antioxidants Are Found In All Sorts Of Food
It is an essential source of antioxidants. They are naturally found in foods both plant and animal based origin, especially in vegetables, fruits and beverages like coffee and tea.
Types of Dietary Antioxidants
There are many different varieties of antioxidants found in foods. They can be broadly categorized into two groups, Water- soluble and fat- soluble antioxidants.
Water- Soluble antioxidants perform their actions in the fluid inside and outside the cells, whereas fat- soluble antioxidants act mainly in the cell membranes. Here is a list of a few important dietary antioxidants:
Vitamin C- One of the most important water- soluble antioxidants and an essential dietary nutrient.
Vitamin E- The main fat- soluble antioxidant that plays a critical role in protecting the cell membranes against oxidative damage.
Flavonoids- A large group of antioxidants found in plant foods.
Should You Take Antioxidant Supplements?
Real foods have hundreds if not thousands of different nutrients that work together. Taking just one or two isolated nutrients won’t have the same beneficial effects.
The best/ healthiest way to ensure adequate intake of antioxidants, is a diet which is rich in various vegetables and fruit, along with other healthy dietary habits.
However, low- dose supplementation, such as in multivitamin tablets, may be the answer if you are deficient in certain nutrients.