Our Body's Free Radical Fighters
What are antioxidants?
Our body is an incredibly functional machine, always maintaining a steady state called homeostasis. Cells are built, cells are shut down if they might be harmful or just old or not functional anymore, and invaders are detected and knocked out to not harm the body.
One of these mechanisms is the development of “Free Radicals”. These important molecules are involved in many processes, such as control of vascular tone and thus blood pressure or the fighting of microorganisms.Many of these free radicals are necessary for life, but there has to be an equilibrium because otherwise they can cause cell damage.
Free radicals have an unstable chemical structure. For a quick chemistry refresher: they are missing an electron, which is why they are looking to bind with whatever may come across their way and give them an electron. This is what can make them dangerous because it can lead to chain reactions in immune responses, cell damage, destruction of healthy tissues and an accelerated aging process.
Antioxidants are the counterpart of free radicals. They can bind with them and make them harmless. If the equilibrium between antioxidants and free radicals is disturbed, cell damage is likely to occur. This damage is called “Oxidative Stress”.
What happens in the body is similar to the browning of an apple after cutting it. As you probably know, you can stop this process squeezing a lemon on it. And here’s the “aha” moment: this is due to the fact that lemon contains vitamin C which is a very potent antioxidant.
Basically, antioxidants are important because they help to stop oxidative processes, which can harm the body.
What causes the development of free radicals or oxidative stress in the body?
- UV radiation
- Increased ozone
- Tabac smoke
- Poor gut health
- Poor nutrition (low intake of antioxidants)
- High sugar diet
- Pesticides in foods
- Trans fats (in fried foods or baked foods)
- High amounts of emotional & physical stress
We can help our body to produce more antioxidants avoiding the risk factors if possible. A diet high in antioxidant-rich foods is key to avoid oxidative stress.
Different Types of Antioxidants:
There are numerous molecules that have antioxidant characteristics. Let’s have a look at the most important ones:
- Vitamin C: it is an essential, water-soluble vitamin, the body cannot produce it on its own, so it must be acquired through food. It can be found in high quantities in acerola, sweet peppers, spinach, lemon, parsley, broccoli and more.
- Glutathione: is built out of three amino acids in the liver, so it is essential. Foods high in these three amino acids are: eggs, beef, sunflower seeds.
- Melatonin: a hormone responsible for our biological clock. It might be the most effective lipophilic antioxidant. There is some naturally occurring melatonin in foods like tart cherries, bananas or grapes and, good news, in wine and beer.
- Vitamin E: a water-soluble vitamin with potent antioxidant characteristics. It can be found in mollusks, spinach, swiss chard and olive oil.
Foods High in Antioxidants:
ORAC stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity”. The values were initially detected (in vitro - in the laboratory) by the USDA, who shut down the use of ORAC in 2012, stating that no physiological proof in vivo (in real life, outside the laboratory) existed in support of the free-radical theory.
Nevertheless, many experts are of the opinion that the higher the value in a food is, the higher the probability to have antioxidant and thus protective effects in your body - you can check out more info here.
How Much Antioxidants Should We Eat?
It is suggested to take at least 3 of the high antioxidant foods listed above (from the top 10 list or others) every day.
If you have too many antioxidants, you suppress your body's own ability to turn on its antioxidant defense system. Luckily, it's difficult to get too much from your diet, which is why most experts recommend sticking to natural sources.
Whenever you have the option with foods such as apples, potatoes, or grapes, eat them with the skin on.
Health Benefits of Antioxidants:
- Increase brain health
- Decrease oxidative stress
- Prevent cancer
- Protect our vision
- Maintain our lungs healthy
- Help with hair growth
- Keep our skin healthy and glowing
Antioxidants help to protect the body against possibly harming free radicals. Oxidative stress caused by endogenous (internal) and exogenous (external) risk factors can lead to cell damage and accelerate the aging process. Eating a balanced diet in antioxidant-rich foods as well as avoiding exogenous risk factors can help the body to stay young and healthy.
To boost your antioxidant intake, check out our Super Antiox superfood powder mix.