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What is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are substances that can slow down or prevent cellular damage against the effect of free radicals. Free radicles are unstable molecules that the body produces in response to environmental toxins and other types of stressors. Free radicals contain an unpaired electron and are highly reactive molecules. They are by-products of biological activities such as breathing and metabolism. The unpaired electron seeks to attach itself to something but while it’s free and unpaired, it can lead to cancer, inflammation, arterial damage, and aging. When antioxidants combine with free radicals, they protect the cells. 

Antioxidants are sometimes known as “free-radical scavengers.” Generally, hundreds and possibly thousands of substances can act as antioxidants, and they help with body’s efficient functioning. Antioxidants are said to help neutralize free radicals in our bodies and promote overall health.

The cell produced a waste product known as “free radicals due to the body’s processing of food and its reaction to the environment. If the body can’t process and eliminate free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress results, which can damage cells and body function. Free radicals are also called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS). Sources of antioxidants can be natural or artificial. Some plant-based foods are believed to be rich in antioxidants. Phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrients, are plant-based antioxidants.

Types of Antioxidants:

There are two types of antioxidants

What are Endogenous antioxidants?

The antioxidants produced by the body are known as endogenous antioxidants. This is because our bodies have their own antioxidant defenses to manage free radicals. The five potent endogenous antioxidants include Glutathione (GSH), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Catalase, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). 

Exogenous antioxidants

The antioxidants that come from outside the body are known as Exogenous antioxidants. Examples of antioxidants that come from outside the body include  vitamin  A,  vitamin C , and  vitamin E ,  beta-carotene , lycopene, lutein,  selenium , manganese, zeaxanthin, Flavones, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, polyphenols, and catechins are some examples of antioxidants and phytonutrients.   They are found  in plant-based foods. Each antioxidant has its own special function; that is why it’s essential to eat a variety of foods.

Factors that increases the body’s production of free radicals can be internal such as inflammation, or external such as pollution, UV exposure, and cigarette smoke. Oxidative stress is associated with arthritis, respiratory diseases, stroke, heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, ischemic conditions, immune deficiency, and other inflammatory.

Importance of antioxidants

Antioxidants are a substance that can protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, called oxidative stress. Processes and activities that cause oxidative stress include:

  • Smoking
  • Radiation
  • Exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, including  chemotherapy 
  • Ozone
  • Industrial solvents
  • Environmental pollution
  • Ischemia
  • Excessive exercise
  • Mitochondrial activity
  • Tissue trauma due to inflammation and injury
  • Consumption of certain foods—refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, certain dyes and additives

 Such activities and exposure can cause cell damage. It may result in:

  • Disruption of electron transport chains
  • Increased enzymes that produce free radicals
  • Excessive release of free iron or copper ions
  • Activation of phagocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in fighting infection

These can all result in oxidative stress. Free radicals can cause cellular changes that can lead to vision loss, cancer, atherosclerosis and more. It is believed that the use of antioxidants reduces these risks. For example, studies suggest that antioxidant supplements may help reduce vision loss in older people due to age-related macular degeneration.

Research has also indicated that antioxidants act as free radical scavengers, electron donors, hydrogen donors, peroxide decomposers, enzyme inhibitors, metal-chelating agents, singlet oxygen quenchers, and synergists. Overall, there is no evidence that high doses of certain antioxidants can help reduce a person’s disease risk. Studies are still ongoing regarding the effects of antioxidants on different conditions.

Diseases Caused by Antioxidant Deficiencies

Deficiencies of antioxidants cause the following possible diseases:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Measles
  • Mental illness
  • Infertility
  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cataracts
  • Hypertension
  • Macular degeneration
  • Periodontal disease

Antioxidants in foods

Antioxidants are essential for the existence of all living things and proper antioxidant amounts are essential. Your diet depends on certain antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E. For example, the health benefits associated with incorporating a plant-rich diet is also due to the variety of antioxidants they provide to the body.

Food high in antioxidants, in particular, is often referred to as “functional foods” or “superfoods.”

Antioxidants can extend the shelf life of both natural and processed foods. Therefore, they are often used as food addicts. For example, vitamin C in protein foods is often added to act as a preservative. Berries, green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate are known to be good sources of antioxidants. Fish and meat products contain antioxidants but to a lesser extent, compared to fruits and vegetables.

To get some specific antioxidants, try incorporating the following in your diet:

Vitamin A: Dairy products, eggs, and liver
(It also helps maintain the health of the digestive tract, lungs, and cell membranes.)

Vitamin C: Most fruits and vegetables, especially berries, oranges, and bell peppers
(Helps with developing immune cells, improves the performance of antibodies, and can eliminate toxins produced by bacteria.)

Vitamin E:  Green, leafy vegetable, Seeds and Nuts, sunflower, and other vegetable oils
(Improves B-cell and T-cell function)

Beta-carotene: Brightly colored vegetables and fruits, such as  mangoes , spinach, pea, and carrots 

Lycopene: Red and pink fruits and vegetables, including watermelon and tomatoes

Lutein: Green leafy vegetables, corn,  papaya , and oranges

Selenium: cheese, eggs, legumes, whole grains, nuts, corn, and rice

Manganese: Whole grains, clams, oysters, mussels, nuts, soybeans and other legumes, rice, leafy vegetables, coffee, tea      

Zinc: lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, and soy products, oysters, red meat, and poultry, baked beans, chickpeas, and nuts also contain zinc.(It boosts the immune system and makes antioxidant enzymes.)

Iron: Egg, red meat, apples, banana and pomegranates, broccoli, string beans, dark leafy greens – Dandelion, collard, kale, spinach— potatoes, cabbage, tomato paste.(Important component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and carbon dioxide into cells) Other foods that are thought to be good sources of antioxidants include:

  • Eggplants
  • Legumes such as black beans or kidney beans
  • green and black teas
  • Red grapes
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pomegranates
  • Goji berries

Rich, vibrant-colored foods are often high in antioxidants. The following items are also good sources of antioxidants.

  •  Blueberries 
  •  Apples 
  •  Broccoli 
  •  Spinach 
  •  Lentils 

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