What are Antioxidants
Antioxidants are essential for the prevention of oxidative damage in the body, which in turn, results in membrane and tissue damage. Oxygen interaction with certain molecules results in a group of atoms. They have an odd paired electron. This damage causes cell death or malfunctioning. Metabolism of oxygen results in free radicals. These free radicals embezzle some electrons, thereby resulting in cell injury. Excessive free radicals cause liver and cardiac problems and are also carcinogenic.
Factors, such as smoking, sunlight, stress, pollution and alcohol aggravate free radical formation. Free radicals blind vision, by resulting in degradation of the lens. The damaged DNA stimulates a carcinogenic effect, causing cancer. Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease is a result of the damage of the brain’s nerve cells, by the free radicals. Ageing is hastened, thereby causing wrinkles. Risk of cardiovascular diseases is increased, due to the adherence of (LDL) ‘bad cholesterol’ to the arterial walls.
Antioxidants are those, which have the capacity to resist and nullify the effect of free radicals. They also decrease the effect caused by oxidative damage. In other terms, they scavenge the free radicals. Vitamins and minerals are the major antioxidants, with potent activity, seen in food. Minerals, such as selenium, copper and zinc and Vitamins E, C and A are some of them. Phytochemicals or non-nutrient antioxidants in plants have a much potent antioxidant activity, than these nutrients. Anthocyanins in cranberries and lycopene in tomatoes are suitable examples for non-nutrient antioxidants. See also antioxidants for kids
Fortunately, you can contain the damage caused by free radicals by consuming sufficient quantities of antioxidants. Since antioxidants help to neutralize the effects of free radicals, they help to slow down the process of ageing and can help prevent the occurrence of life threatening diseases such as cancer.
Which are the best antioxidants?
Antioxidants are naturally present in many different kinds of food. Consuming sufficient quantities of these natural antioxidants can help you to maintain your health by minimizing the effect of free radicals.
Let us take a look at some of the best antioxidants sources in everyday foods.
- Brightly colored foods: Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are rich in beta carotene which is a potent antioxidant. Some of the best antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are present in apricots, peaches, cantaloupes, carrots, tomatoes, squash, sweet potato, and broccoli.
- Citrus fruits: Citrus fruits are foods that are high in antioxidants because they contain large amounts of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and also helps to strengthen your immune system, thereby making you less susceptible to disease and infection.
- Berries: Grapes and berries contain compounds known as flavonoids which are also a good source of antioxidants. Blueberries and acai berries are especially rich in antioxidants.
- Red wine: Not all the good things in life are bad for you. Red wine is also rich in polyphenol antioxidants. Sip a glass of wine every day to keep up the fight against free radicals.
- Chocolate: Another good thing that is actually good for you, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and can be one of the best desserts that you indulge in if you have a sweet tooth.
- Coffee and tea: Antioxidants are also present in coffee and tea, although in limited quantities. However, green tea is loaded with antioxidants and the large quantities of green tea that are consumed in Chinese and Japanese and cultures is said to be responsible for their longevity in spite of the fact that smoking is also very prevalent there.
- Meat: Antioxidants are also present in non-vegetarian food sources such as fish, chicken, and eggs in the form of selenium. Although red meat contains antioxidants too, its benefits are negated by the high amounts of bad cholesterol that it contains.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, peanuts, flax seed, and sunflower seeds are also loaded with antioxidants and vitamins. These make for an excellent and healthy snack option.
Basically, foods high in antioxidants are also the foods that are generally considered to be good for you. So if you eat a healthy diet consisting of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, you will be able to provide your body with lots of natural antioxidants every day. In addition to these natural antioxidants, you can also consume antioxidants in the form of supplements or get injectable antioxidants. However, the efficacy of these artificial sources of antioxidants is debatable and these should only be had if your doctor recommends them.
Antioxidants and Cancer Treatment
Antioxidants are also referred to as the disease fighting antioxidants, due to their efficacy in curtailing many diseases. Research reveals the non-existence of prostate cancer in men consuming tomatoes (lycopene). Reduced risk of degradation of eye lens and blindness is seen in old age people, consuming corn and spinach (lutein). Catechin, which is a flavanoid present in green tea, reduces the risk of cardiac problems.
Good sources of antioxidants include a big list of varied food stuffs. Foods containing beta carotene, lignans, sulphur, indoles, polyphenols, copper, isoflavanoids, catechins, manganese, cryptoxanthins, zinc, lutein, selenium, Vitamins A,C and E are good sources. A serving comprises of half a cup of vegetables (cooked) or a medium fruit. Five servings are recommended. Artificial supplements are better avoided. Athletes find these antioxidants helpful, due to improved performance and endurance behavior. Food isolated forms of antioxidants, such as beta carotene have decreased effects. Antioxidants act as pro-oxidants, at levels much higher than the recommended intake.
Antioxidants for Skin
Just as antioxidants can help to keep you young from the inside, they can help to keep you young from the outside too. Old age is characterized by saggy skin and wrinkles and spots. This change also happens due to oxidization of the skin cells due to the presence of free radicals. If you can minimize the presence of free radicals in your body, your skin will retain its youthful appearance for a longer period of time. The best way to give your body antioxidants for your skin is through your food. Consume foods that are rich in antioxidants and the effects will be visible on your skin as well. Some of the best antioxidants for skin care are found in beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and in flavonoids. Make foods that are rich in these nutrients a regular part of your diet and you will not have to start worrying about wrinkles at an early age.
There are also some other things that you can do to ensure these antioxidant’s skin benefits are not negated through external factors. Always apply sunscreen when you are going out in the sun and wear a hat if it is especially sunny. Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated at all times. If you allow your skin to dry, all the antioxidants in the world will do you no good. Cigarettes and good skin do not go together. Smoking is one of the worst things that you can do to your body, especially to your skin. If you want to retain your youthful visage, kick the habit now. Many cosmetic companies are experimenting with putting antioxidants into anti-ageing creams and lotions. However, the effectiveness of such products is debatable because the quantities of antioxidants that are actually absorbed into the skin are miniscule at best. You would be better of investing that time and money in ensuring that you eat a healthy diet that is packed with fresh produce that is rich in antioxidants.