What are antioxidants?

An antioxidant is a natural substance that will stop or limit damage to your body caused by what are known as free radicals. When you ingest antioxidants, this will then stabilize the free radicals. You may be wondering what a free radical is, this is a body chemical that is altered by oxidation. Oxidation occurs when the body is exposed to oxygen which happens every day.

Oxygen is important to your body but exposure to sun, alcohol, pollution or cigarette smoke causes a free radical and will damage body chemicals, DNA and parts of your cells. There could be a link between free radicals and diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease according to scientists. It could also possibly be linked to the aging process.

Now that we know what an antioxidant is, we can begin to explain where they can be found and what the effects are from them. First off, some antioxidants are produced by your body itself and these will start to fight off the free radicals by normal body processes. In order to add antioxidants to help fight off these free radicals; you can get some by eating a healthy diet.

Some examples of foods with a significant amount of antioxidants include fruits and vegetables that are high in nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, selenium, and lycopene.

You could also choose to take antioxidant supplements but we would prefer you to talk to your doctor first before starting or considering adding a supplement to your diet. Some supplements do not contain the proper balance of vitamins, enzymes and minerals; this could give a negative effect on your health.

In order to get the most antioxidants in your diet, we recommend you eat a balanced diet with a nice mix of colorful fruits and vegetables and other antioxidant rich foods. We will go over some of those below.
– You can find Vitamin A in liver, butter, eggs and milk.
– Most fruits and vegetables have Vitamin C.

The ones with the highest amounts of Vitamin C   include kiwi, cantaloupe, papayas, strawberries, and oranges. Others include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bell peppers, kale cauliflower and tomatoes.

– Seeds and nuts include a great amount of Vitamin E; included in this section would be almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds. There is a good amount found in green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach and various oils like corn, sunflower and canola oils.
– Colorful fruits are where you can find Beta-carotene which includes cantaloupe, peas, carrots, papayas, apricots, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, peaches and mangoes.

This is another item that can be found in leafy green vegetables including beet greens, spinach and kale.

Another ingredient that is found in leafy green vegetable is Lutein. This can also be found in spinach, kale, corn, peas, collards, broccoli, oranges and papayas.

– Lycopene is an antioxidant that is found in red and pink fruits and vegetables such as apricots, watermelons, pink grapefruit and tomatoes.
– Selenium is found in a lot of cereals that include corn, wheat and rice. It is also found in animal products such as turkey, fish, beef, and chicken. Other items include nuts, legumes, pastas and bread.

Vitamin E and beta-carotene rich foods are healthy for you and could reduce cancer risks but the American of Family Physicians and the Preventive Services Task Force do not recommend you taking a Vitamin E or beta-carotene supplement for preventing cancer. Another important note is that if you have a high risk of lung cancer or smoke, it is also advised not to take a beta-carotene supplement because it can increase the risks of developing lung cancer. Overall, the best way to get your antioxidants is by having a mixed diet with a lot of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains.

This variety is important for many reasons. If you are going to take a multi-vitamin supplement, be cautious of your health and intake of the supplement. Be sure to talk to your physician before starting a vitamin supplement regime. Remember that too much of some nutrients could be harmful to your health if you take supplements instead of foods such as selenium, vitamin E, or vitamin A.

Like anything else, there are some potential hazards out there with antioxidants. If they were harmless, it would not matter if you took them as a “just in case” measure. There have been a few studies made where the results showed that taking antioxidant supplements could interfere with your health. This was linked to both single agents and the combination type of these antioxidant supplements. The first trial came in Finland where researchers gave beta-carotene to heavy smokers where they were at a high risk of developing lung cancer. When researchers saw a significant increase in lung cancer among those taking the supplement, versus the ones taking placebo, they trial was stopped. There were also some other trials with beta-carotene that showed an increase in the risk of lung cancer but not all showed the same effect. There was a Physicians’ Health Study where active smokers had no increase in lung cancer, even after 18 years of follow up checks. There was another red flag raised when rates of skin cancer were growing higher in women who were taking vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium.

The bottom line on the antioxidants is to be careful. They can prevent disease but talk to your physician first before just starting a regime. Chronic diseases are still being caused by free radicals from cancer to Alzheimer’s to heart disease and vision loss. With this information, it does not mean that taking antioxidants will fix the problems, especially if they are taken out of their context. The studies that have been done so far are inconclusive but they don’t provide enough evidence that the antioxidant supplements have substantial impacts on diseases. It is important to remember that most of these antioxidant studies have had limited funding or they were conducted during a short term and have been conducted with persons having existing diseases.

What are free radicals?


Free RadicalThe human body is composed of cells. As we go about our daily activities, our cells undergo many processes. One of these processes is the metabolism of oxygen, which is known as oxidation. When oxygen comes in contact with other substances, it loses one or more electrons and produces a ‘free radical’. There is a necessary amount of free radicals needed to maintain proper physiological functions, however, free radicals steal electrons from other molecules, this causes a chain reaction that can either damage or kill cells. An excessive amount of free radicals may lead to ‘oxidative stress’. Free radical production is heightened by activities like smoking, exposure to air pollution, and excessive physical stress. This can, however, be prevented through the intake of ‘antioxidants’.

Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules; they can be synthesized by the body naturally, or obtained from the diet.

There are two general classifications of antioxidants. They may either be Water soluble, of Fat soluble.

1. Water Soluble Antioxidants – these antioxidants react with the blood plasma and oxidants in the cell cytosol.

a. Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C)

Ascorbic acid is a monnosaccharide oxygen-reduction catalyst that occurs naturally in plants and animals. Humans however, must obtain it from their diet. In addition to its’ antioxidant effect, it also helps boost the immune system and helps fight common diseases and viral infections. Ascorbic acid can be found in oranges, lemons, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, pepper, and other leafy greens. Ascorbic acid can also be obtained from supplements sold in the form of tablets.

b. Glutathione

Glutathione is a peptide that contains cysteine. It is synthesized by the cells from its amino acid constituents. Glutathione can be taken in 3 different ways:

(1) Glutathione taken by mouth boosts the immune system and treats cataracts, glaucoma, asthma, heart disease, and hepatitis.

(2) When inhaled, Glutathione treats pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and other lung diseases, and when

(3) Administered intravenously, glutathione can help treat infertility, anemia, diabetes, and other kidney problems.

c. Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid is an organosulfur compound which is essential for aerobic metabolism. It is found in spinach, broccoli, and potatoes and are used to treat nerve-related symptoms of diabetes. It is also used to treat eye related disorders, liver diseases, chronic fatigue, and lyme disease.

2. Fat soluble Antioxidants- these are antioxidants that protect the body from lipid peroxidation.

a. Beta-carotene

Beta carotene is a group of red, orange and yellow photosynthetic pigments that can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Beta carotene is used to prevent heart disease, asthma, and muscular degeneration. It has also been found to have positive effects on Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease patients, and epilepsy.

b. Alpha-Tocopherol (vitamin E)

Vitamin E is a tocopherol with the highest bioavailability. It is found in vegetable oils, cereals, poultry, and eggs and is used to treat heart and blood vessel diseases, and high blood pressure.

c. Ubiquinol

Ubiquinol is a coenzyme and antioxidant that is produced in the body naturally, it is usually found in the heart, liver, kidney, and pancreas, it can also be obtained from eating meat and seafood and is used for treating congestive heart failures, chest pain, and blood vessel conditions.

Since antioxidants posses a high free radical scavenging activity, an antioxidant rich diet may reduce the risk of contracting degenerative diseases and cancer. High antioxidant intake has also been proven to have a positive effect on preventing the premature aging of cells. There are many other sources of antioxidants; you can get them from fruits, green leafy vegetables, tea, wine and even beans.