Most people have heard of antioxidants but have no idea what they are or their importance in their bodies. Antioxidants are phytochemicals that are primarily found in plants. These phytochemicals include vitamin C, vitamin E, Selenium, and beta-carotene. Besides getting these antioxidants from plants, our bodies can also make their antioxidants, such as coenzyme Q10 and glutathione. However, the intracellular antioxidant levels depend more on our diet.
Antioxidants are fat and water-soluble. They live in parts of your cells that are oily and watery. For instance, vitamin C is water-soluble hence found in the watery segment of your body. On the other hand, vitamin E is fat-soluble and resides in areas such as cell membranes in fat-rich cells.
Though they work in different areas of our bodies, these antioxidants communicate and reinforce each other. Antioxidants work together to defend our bodies from unstable molecules called free radicals.
Effects of Free Radicals
Free radicals are harmful to our bodies; they cause severe health challenges. These challenges include inflammation of the joints (arthritis), damage to nerve cells in our brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, vision loss, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and signs of aging.
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The Health Benefits of Antioxidants
People who eat food rich in antioxidants have increased protection against disease. This protection is related to antioxidants’ ability to fight free radicals. The Health benefits of antioxidants include:
Ability to Fight Free Radicals
Antioxidants can fight free radicals that damage our cells. As earlier stated, free radicals are highly reactive and unstable molecules trying to become stable. Free radicals try to steal what they lack (electrons). They attack the molecule close by, such as protein and lipid, and steal an electron.
After the “robbery,” the molecule becomes a free radical, then attacks another nearby molecule, and the process repeats itself. The aftermath of this process later damages our cells and DNA. The damage caused leads to premature aging, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Free radicals are inevitable; they are formed naturally during breathing, exercise, and converting food to energy. There are also free radicals caused by environmental sources such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, and sunlight. Therefore, our bodies require more antioxidants to protect our cells from free radicals.
When vitamin E hands out an electron to a free radical, the chain reaction is stopped, but then vitamin E requires some support to keep working. When vitamin C comes steps in to rescue and restore vitamin E to its working state. We not only require dietary antioxidants to prevent free radical damage, but we need a variety of them. Different antioxidants have different abilities to fight against other free radicals. Ensure to supply your body with varying antioxidants from various healthy foods.
Enhance Mental Health
The brain is prone to free radicals, and the hippocampus-a brain section involved in memory and learning takes a big hit. Oxidative stress kills the cells in the hippocampus and reduces the growth of new brain cells.
Research shows a link between inadequate antioxidant defense systems, mood disorder, and oxidative stress. However, there is hope in using antioxidants as a possible treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders. It’s also believed that consuming food rich in antioxidants can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to a study, people with anxiety and depression were low levels of vitamins A, C, and E. However, after 6-weeks of consuming dietary supplementation, an increase in antioxidants was reported, and symptoms of anxiety and depression were reduced.
Reduce Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress results from a lack of balance and can damage our body and brain. It’s mostly linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, autoimmune disease, age-related macular degeneration, depression, mental stress, and memory loss. Additionally, mood disorders, chronic disease, and increased stress may increase oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is also linked with inflammation, a fundamental cause of chronic diseases like mood disorders like depression and cardiovascular disease. There is a chain here – oxidative stress may increase inflammation. On the other hand, inflammation increases free radicals, causing oxidative stress. Antioxidants aid in the reduction of inflammation. For instance, vitamin C can reduce CRP (C – reactive protein).
Promote Healthy Eyes
Antioxidants can protect our eyes from age-related macular disease (AMD). As we grow old, the macula of the eyes is bound to be damaged. AMD is among the leading causes of poor or vision loss in older people. Though it may not cause complete blindness, it causes damage to our central vision.
Central vision is vital for reading, recognizing things, and driving, among other things. The National Eye Institute and the National Institute for Health (NIH) found that a combination of antioxidants (500 mg; vitamin E, vitamin C, 400 IU; and beta carotene, 15 mg, 80 mg of zinc) can reduce the risk of developing AMD by 25%.
Promotes Brain Health
Research has shown the link between neurodegenerative disorders and vitamin deficiency. To get enough vitamins to reduce the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disorder, you need to eat many plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruits.
Antioxidants are essential in ensuring that our body is protected against free radicals. As much as we need to fight free radicals, the goal isn’t to eradicate them since they also serve a purpose. For instance, they assist the immune system in fighting infection.
The only challenge has excess free radicals that our antioxidant team can’t neutralize. Ensure that you consume lots of fruits to get enough antioxidants required in the body. Additionally, feeding on food rich in antioxidants guarantees a delay in age-related disease by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, protecting telomeres, and reducing DNA damage.