Every other day you come across the term antioxidants, especially if you deal with food, nutrition or medicine.
Even if you do not come across the term, your body encounters antioxidants at different times during the day, you might not even know it.
What are antioxidants and why are antioxidants important?
The role of antioxidants in the body is to put up a fight against oxidation.
Oxidation happens in your body every other day. Oxidation can be accelerated by a number of factors, with the most common being alcohol, smoking, and stress.
As long as there is a disruption in the body’s natural oxidation process the body creates free radicals.
Free radicals are potentially damaging and highly unstable molecules. These radicals, when uncontrolled, usually cause a lot of damage to the cells in your body and are always linked to cancer.
Free radicals are simply atom groups that have electrons. They form when some molecules in your body interact with oxygen.
Upon formation, the free radicals usually begin a series of chain chemical reactions which are very dangerous.
In fact, the biggest threat they pose to you is the fact that they can react with the cell membrane or your DNA, in the process making the cells malfunction or killing them.
These radicals are not only present in the body, but they are also present in some of the food we eat, and even in the air we breathe.
Protecting the body
The production of free radicals in the body brings about oxidative stress.
When this happens, even the natural defence systems of the body are weakened and you cannot get the protection you need. This is how the early stages of heart disease and cancer come about.
Free radicals are also at the centre of the development of the following:
- Age-related blindness
- Kidney disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
Luckily, the body has a number of defences that help in fending off this damage. There are molecules – antioxidants – that protect the body and fend off the oxygen attack.
Antioxidants usually interact with the free radicals and impede their damaging impact before they can affect the cells around them.
The body has enzyme systems that intercept free radicals and prevent severe damage to the body cells. You can also get additional antioxidants from the food you eat, or supplements you buy off stores.
There are vitamins that are natural antioxidants, like Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
There are also minerals that serve as antioxidants, such as manganese and selenium.
Plant components like lycopene and beta carotene are also antioxidants that you must have come across in supplements, ads or other places.
There are a lot of foods out there that introduce quality amounts of antioxidants into your body. Primarily, plant foods are rich in antioxidants.
Minerals like manganese and selenium might be found in seafood and meat, but the quantity is so low compared to plants.
The following are some of the foods that should form a good part of your diet in case you are looking to provide your body with the ammunition it needs against free radicals:
- Sweet potatoes
- Green vegetables
The list is endless.
However, as long as your diet contains a lot of vegetables, chances are high that you will have enough antioxidants in your diet to support your body’s defence systems.
When it comes to antioxidants, one of the areas where there is so much promise is eye health.
There are studies that have in the past revealed the importance of vitamins C and E, beta carotene and zinc in reducing the risk of developing advanced AMD – age-related macular degeneration, especially in those who already have intermediate AMD or advanced AMD in one of the eyes.
Coupled with the success in fending off free radicals, hence protecting you from different forms of cancer, you really should see to it that your diet is appropriately nutritious.
Risks of antioxidant supplements
They say, too much of a good thing is bad, right?
Well, whether you are taking them in a mixture of compounds or not, there are studies into prostate and lung cancer that have previously indicated that having excessive consumption antioxidants could have adverse effects on the body.
In women, using supplements a lot increases the risk of skin cancer.
Some studies have also shown that people who take too much of beta carotene, vitamins A and E are at a higher risk of premature death, while another indicated that too much intake of vitamin E might be a factor in increased bleeding and heart failure.
Take note that the FDA never regulates supplements, and these could easily be sold with a little research on their purity or effectiveness.
What we have to underline here is the use of the words “too much” and “excessive”. If you maintain a credible content of antioxidants, especially in your food, you should be safe.
A lot of research has been done, proving that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain a good amount of antioxidants, are safe for your body.
So, to wrap it off, why are antioxidants important?
Well, simply put, they make sure you live longer and stay away from terminal illnesses. How about that?