Antioxidants often crop up in conversations about health, but what they are, and what they do often goes unexplained – leaving many feeling like they are a bit of a gimmick. Well, they are not. Antioxidants are vital to the maintenance and protection of your body and mind, their value cannot be stated enough when it comes to your overall wellbeing. We have put together a comprehensive guide to show you why.
Antioxidants play a vital role within the body. Most people know about them, and that they are good for you, but could not tell you why. The following information should give you all the knowledge you need to know about these unsung heroes, and exactly why you need to get as much of them as possible.
An antioxidant is a type of molecule capable of defending other molecules within your body from oxidisation. It is not a type of nutrient per se, but an active trait featured in many of the essential nutrients we consume. The body circulates through the nutrients it contains, utilising the varying antioxidants to cover a wide range of bases. It can also produce its own antioxidant enzymes to help support the work of ingested nutrients – although the anti-oxidants the body produces are not enough to defend the body by themselves. This is why it is essential to have a nutrient rich diet, full of antioxidants.
To understand the work of antioxidants, you must first understand what they protect your body from. These are free-radicals. Free radicals are a naturally produced molecules that are essential to life. Many prescription drugs have them in, and the body produces them, especially when you exercise, to help maintain the body – however, too many can do more harm than good.
Free-radicals are molecules that are missing one or more electron. This causes the free radical to aggressively attack other molecules in order to take them apart and gain their missing pieces, effectively destroying the molecule they attacked. This can be great for removing old and unwanted components from the body, but the thing is, free-radicals do not discriminate, and will happily attack healthy, normal cells as well.
This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants protect cells from free-radicals, minimising potential damage. If left unchecked, free-radicals will attack proteins in your body, deteriorating cell structure and even damaging DNA. It is free-radicals that are linked to premature aging, and their numbers can be greatly boosted by such things as smoking, excess sunlight and radiation. When you have enough anti-oxidants, it creates a kind of balance within the body, allowing free-radicals to do their job without snowballing. But if the balance is off then it can lead to catastrophic damage to your DNA, which has been linked to over 60 known diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cataracts.
Basically, without antioxidants, the cells within your body become too overwhelmed by the constant bombardment by free-radicals, leading to poor performance, cells degeneration and disease.
Antioxidants are electron donors. They stop free radicals from attacking your cells by sacrificing themselves, feeding and neutralising the free-radicals without actually becoming one themselves when their electrons are taken. They are basically nature’s way of keeping you protected.
There are many antioxidants out there, all with varying qualities. The following qualities to not apply to all of them.
Promoting cancer cell death – There are a few antioxidants out there that contain anticancer chemicals, and can cause some cancerous cells to self-destruct.
Repairing damaged molecules - Some antioxidants have the capability to repair already damaged molecules by donating a hydrogen atoms – this is vital when the damaged molecule is part of your DNA.
Shielding molecules – In addition to sacrificing themselves to free-radicals, some antioxidants, such as flavonoids, will actually latch onto DNA molecules, acting as a defensive barrier.
Prevent the production of metal based free radicals – Some antioxidants can bind certain trace metals that are responsible for the production of free-radicals, such as mercury and arsenic. This prevents the metals going through the chemical reaction that results in an excess of free-radicals.
Stimulate bodily produced antioxidants - There are a few antioxidants out there that actually encourage the production of more within the body, boosting natural defense.
There is a huge array of antioxidants out there, and the more varied collection you can include in your diet, the better.
Found in a large variety of fruit and vegetables, vitamin C is used for a whole array of bodily functions. One of these functions is preventing damage to cells by acting as a major electron donor.
Another essential vitamin used for many purposes throughout the body. It to helps prevent the damage caused by free-radicals by donating its electrons.
Carotenoids are pigments that give many fruit and vegetables their varied and vibrant colours. There are over 700 known carotenoids, all of which help protect you from the damage of free-radicals.
This is an antioxidant found in certain fruits, cocoa, vegetables and wine. It is especially effective at protecting the brain and central nervous system, and is attributed to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, lower blood pressure and slowdown the spread of cancer.
Glutathione is seen as the ‘master antioxidant’. It is produced within the body and can be found in every single cell. What makes it so powerful is its ability to boost the potential of all the other antioxidants you may have in your body. In addition to protecting from free-radicals and boosting other antioxidants, it also helps neutralise toxins, prevent disease and boost energy utilisation. It is the general of your antioxidant army.
In addition to protecting you from free-radicals, this antioxidant is particularly effective and binding free-radical producing metals. It is also one of the few antioxidants that can easily be transported to the brain, making it essential in brain maintenance.
CoQ10, apart from donating its electrons to free-radicals, helps maintain a normal blood pressure, supports the heart, immune system and central nervous system, and helps cells produce energy.
As long as you have a balanced and nutritious diet, getting enough antioxidants to stay fit and healthy is not hard. Here are some things loaded with them.
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh vegetables (try and get a mix of colours)
- Organic green tea
- Herbs and spices
- Uzuma green juice!