Antioxidants or free radical scavengers are nature’s way of protecting our bodies from the damaging effects of free radicals. These free radicals or reactive oxygen species are cells that our bodies produce as part of the waste cycle and result of metabolising our foods, as a reaction to pressures caused by our environments and pollutants we come into contact with. In fact, every action in our bodies can cause free radical production from the division of cells and their up taking or using of nutrients to exercising in the gym.
Promoting this natural cycle and having a natural balance between the free radicals we produce, the antioxidants we produce called endogenous antioxidants and the antioxidants we consume called exogenous antioxidants is the best way to ensure we enjoy optimum health levels.
When there is an imbalance with too many free radicals present in our bodies, it puts a huge strain on our internal organs, blood vessels and we’re very likely to experience and suffer from oxidative stress. This not only places a burden on our physical body parts, but can cause a wide range of emotional issues such as depression and anxiety disorders as well as many of today’s chronic illnesses and ischemic or inflammatory conditions.
These conditions can include Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, arthritis, cancer’s, high blood pressure, premature aging, stroke and heart disease.
Types of Antioxidants
Almost all natural foods contain their own particular types of antioxidants, fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, eggs, dairy and meats. Each type of antioxidant is unique and used by our bodies for a specific function or application and unfortunately, they are not interchangeable. The key to good health is selecting the widest range of natural foods possible so you get the widest range of antioxidants possible.
During the processing process, almost all the natural antioxidants foods contain are removed or rendered useless. Many manufacturers then add artificial antioxidants to replace them, but often these are not readily usable by our bodies, they just add to the other unnatural substance our bodies have to deal with each day.
Common antioxidants include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, Beta-carotene, Lycopene and Lutein, but there are hundreds more and scientists are finding new ones all the time.
One thing that has become clear is that more is not really better with antioxidants and it’s having a variety and the quality that matters rather than the quantity of each individual antioxidant. In fact, too much of any one antioxidant can often be detrimental not helpful.
Pregnant women who take large amounts of Vitamin A can have babies with birth defects, increased risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Large amounts of vitamin E (more than 400I Units a day) are associated with increased mortality, so always consult a registered health advisor before using a large amount of any supplements.
So what are the benefits of antioxidants?
Antioxidants can prevent or reduce the amount of damage to cells that is caused by free radicals, if you have a balanced diet. Antioxidants benefit us by doing a number of functions around our bodies such as being a radical scavenger, a harmful enzyme inhibitor, they help remove heavy metals, are hydrogen donor’s, peroxide decomposes, electron donors, singlet oxygen quencher and general detoxifier.
They also bolster the immune system by helping it to fight infection and the removal of mutated (cancerous) cells.
Some of the other things antioxidant can help protect our bodies against are:
- Chemical exposure, including, drugs, pesticides, fungicides
- Excessive exercise
- Environmental pollution
- Excessive meat consumption
- Industrial solvents
- Ischemia and reperfusion damage
- Processed foods with artificial sweeteners, colourings and flavours
- Mitochondrial activity
- Ozone and sun exposure
- Radiation including X-rays, cell phone and microwaves
- Trauma from damaged tissue, accidents and surgery
- The release of free copper, iron or other ions in the body
Many fruits and vegetable have a high level of different antioxidants, which make them very beneficial. Fruits and vegetables with dark or bright colours such as orange-Oranges, red-beets, dark green-kale & broccoli, black-Blackberries, brown-chocolate & coffee, blue-Blue Berries and purple-plums & sweet potato have the highest antioxidant levels.