Antioxidants are substances, natural or man-made, that protect cells from the impact of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced by the body after breaking down food, and developing exposure to tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals are a culprit in heart diseases and cancer. The sources of antioxidants are either natural or artificial. Plant-based foods are rich sources of antioxidants. Vitamins C and E, and carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin are also examples of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are also touted to be anti-carcinogenic. In a lab research done on animal studies, the results were inconclusive as the parameters for cancer to develop is too broad, with too many affecting factors. However, it is safe to say that high doses of it is able to keep free radicals at bay and in turn, lower the risk of cancer.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant prevalent in nature. It is 550 times stronger than vitamin E and 6,000 times healthier in comparison to vitamin C. It has a unique structure, acts on at least five different inflammation pathways and can handle many free radicals at any given time.
Types of Antioxidants
Carotenoids are plant pigments that provide red, orange and yellow colors to fruits and vegetables. There are more than 600 types of carotenoids, although the most common ones are beta-carotene and alpha-carotene. Beta-carotene produces Vitamin A, which is responsible for healthy skin and eyes. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots (which also fight against night blindness), mangoes and sweet potatoes. Alpha-carotene is associated with longevity and lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Alpha-carotene is found in beta-carotene fruits as well as tangerines, tomatoes and peas.
The flavonoid family consists of more than 6,000 subgroups. Due to their ability to regulate cell-signalling pathways and gene expression, flavonoids have an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effect. The most common flavonoids are Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Vitamin A strengthens immune function, vision and bones, and protects against free radicals. Beta-carotene, functioning as provitamin A, is found in fruits and vegetables, while retinol has a presence in animal-based foods such as cod liver oil, cheddar cheese and milk. Vitamin C, which is commonly known as ascorbic acid, scavenges free radicals and restores the antioxidant properties of vitamin E. The prominent sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, kiwis and spinach.
Isothiocyanates are sulfur-rich compounds that are found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and mustards.
Resveratrol is found in red wine, cocoa, blueberries and grape skin. It holds a great deal of promise for treating cancer, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Tannins, which are commonly known as tannic acid, are a natural preservative that inhibit the growth of viruses, bacteria and fungi. They are responsible for giving astringency to red wine and raw fruits. Tannins are present in the plant kingdom, bark of hardwood trees, berries, cocoa and beer.
Coenzyme Q10 is crucial for the healthy functioning of cells. The importance of Coenzyme Q10 is underscored by the fact that deficiency of this antioxidant can trigger heart conditions, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
To conclude, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is necessary for a healthy and disease-free body. And we have antioxidants to thank for that – a naturally occuring substance found in many delicious fruits and vegetables. So, the logical takeaway is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that are prepared in various ways to help keep free radicals at bay.
When that is not possible, that is where health supplements come into play. However, do not buy into the fad that everyone must take multivitamins on a daily basis. Supplements are supposed to supplement your diet and not replace it. It is important to seek a doctor’s opinion before deciding to add certain vitamins or minerals into your diet as an excess of vitamin C might cause stomach problems and high doses of supplements such as vitamin A might cause kidney problems. It is entirely possible to overdose on supplements – and having them cause more harm than good. For the average healthy person, supplements are not necessary at all. They are most advisable for those who have allergies or are on a specific diet where they avoid a particular group of food.
If you do not suffer from any health problems and are in reasonable health, all you need to do it strive to eat a balanced diet consisting of grains, greens and protein.