What are antioxidants?
Antioxidant supplements are talked by everyone from scholars to laymen these days. You can find food rich in antioxidants at grocery and supplements online. But very few people actually know what they are and how they work.
The concept of antioxidants is fairly complex, but let’s start with atom. The human body is made up of substances like proteins, fats and DNA, which are basically just large molecules with hundreds or thousands of atoms joined together. During metabolism in human body, bigger molecules are broken down into smaller molecules, and smaller molecules are organized into bigger molecules.
In order for a molecule to be stable, it must contain the right amount of electrons. If the molecule loses an electron when it isn’t supposed to, it can turn into a free radical. Free radicals are unstable, electrically charged molecules in the cells, that can react with other molecules (like DNA) and damage them. They can even form chain reactions, where the molecules they damage also turn into free radicals.
This is where antioxidants step in: if a molecule loses an electron and turns into a free radical, the antioxidant molecule steps in and “gives” the free radical an electron, effectively neutralizing it.
Free radicals are constantly being formed as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. It’s important to keep in mind that free radicals also serve important functions that are essential for our survival. For example, the body’s immune cells use free radicals to kill bacteria that try to infect us.
What causes oxidative stress?
Our body need a certain balance. We need the right amount of free radicals, and the right amount of antioxidants to keep them in check. When this balance gets disrupted, things can start to go wrong. When the free radicals (pro-oxidants) outnumber the antioxidants, this can lead to a state called oxidative stress, whereas important molecules in the body can become severely damaged, sometimes even leading to cell death.
Several stress factors and lifestyle habits are known to promote excessive free radical formation and oxidative stress: air pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol intake, toxins, high blood sugar levels, consuming large amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, radiation, infections by bacteria, fungi or viruses, excessive intake of iron, magnesium, copper, or zinc, too little or too much oxygen in the body, intense and prolonged exercise, too little of too much intake of antioxidants, etc.
The essential role of antioxidants
Antioxidants are essential for the survival of all living things. The human body even generates its own antioxidants, known as endogenous antioxidants, such as the cellular antioxidant glutathione. Plants and animals, and all other forms of life, have their own defenses against free radicals and the oxidative damage caused by them. Therefore, antioxidants are found in pretty much all foods of plant and animal origin.Antioxidants that come from outside the body are called exogenous.
Getting antioxidants from foods is important. In fact, our life depends on the intake of certain antioxidants – namely, vitamin C and vitamin E. The health benefits associated with a diet rich in plants is, at least partially, due to the wide diversity of antioxidants they provide. Meat products and fish also contain antioxidants, but in smaller amounts compared to fruits and vegetables.
Many antioxidants can also have other important functions, especially anti-inflammatory effects. Each antioxidant serves a different function and is not interchangeable with another. This is why it is important to have a varied diet. For example, beta-carotene (and other carotenoids) is very beneficial to eye health; lycopene is beneficial for helping maintain prostate health; flavonoids are especially beneficial for heart health; and proanthocyanidins are beneficial for urinary tract health.
Antioxidants can increase the shelf life of both natural and processed food products. Therefore, they are frequently used as food additives . For instance, vitamin C is often added to processed foods to act as a preservative.
Types of Dietary Antioxidants
Antioxidants can be broadly categorized into two groups, water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants.
- Water-soluble antioxidants (such as Vitamin C) perform their actions in the fluid inside and outside cells
- Fat-soluble antioxidants (such as Vitamin E) act primarily in cell membranes. They that plays a critical role in protecting cell membranes against oxidative damage.
Naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, flavones, catechins, tannins, polyphenols and lignans.Flavonoids is a large group of antioxidants found in plant foods.
Antioxidants can also be categorized as enzymatic and non-enzymatic. The first type benefits us by breaking down and removing free radicals, while the second type benefits us by interrupting free radical chain reactions.
One particular antioxidant worthy mentioning is astaxanthin. Sometimes called “the king of the carotenoids,” astaxanthin is recognized as being one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature. Astaxanthin’s ts high-potency antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties allows it to address a vast array of health concerns.
Should I Take Antioxidant Supplements?
The best strategy to ensure adequate intake of antioxidants is a diet rich in various vegetables and fruit, along with other healthy dietary habits. Foods have hundreds, if not thousands, of different nutrients that work synergistically. Taking just one or two isolated nutrients won’t have the same beneficial effects. Antioxidant supplements contain concentrated forms of antioxidants, which are substances that keep your body’s cells healthy by combating damage caused by free radicals.
Due to today’s fast-paced lifestyle, many people are now neglecting the importance of consuming whole, organic foods, causing them to miss out on essential nutrients, including antioxidants. Air pollution, chemical toxins and stress all contribute to excessive free radicals. In this case, taking a high-quality antioxidant supplement may be an ideal option.
Some of the best antioxidant supplements are: astaxanthin, ALA, krill Oil, quercetin, tocotrienols, liposomal Vitamin C, CoQ10/Ubiquinol.
However, high doses of antioxidant supplements can be harmful. Antioxidant supplements may also interact with some medications.
Did you know?
Glutathione is found in every cell within the body and is made up of amino acids. It is sometimes called the mother of all antioxidants. It helps make DNA, support immune function, break down some free radicals, help certain enzymes function, transport mercury out of the brain,and assist in regular cell death. The good news is that your body can make glutathione from the liver. The bad news is that toxins from poor diet, pollution, toxins, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections and radiation all deplete your glutathione.
There are four ways to boost your glutathione level:
- Consume sulfur-rich foods. The main ones in the diet are garlic, onions and the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.
- Try bioactive whey protein. This is great source of cysteine and the amino acid building blocks for glutathione synthesis.
- Exercise boosts your glutathione levels and thereby helps boost your immune system, improve detoxification and enhance your body’s own antioxidant defenses.
- Take Glutathione Supporting Supplements.
Astaxanthin is a type of carotenoid related to beta-carotene and lutein but it has a unique structure: other antioxidants are depleted after they’ve transferred their free electrons, but astaxanthin has a massive surplus, allowing it to remain “active” far longer. Astaxanthin also acts on at least five different inflammation pathways, and maintains balance within the system.
Astaxanthin is believed to be the nature’s most potent antioxidant. In terms of antioxidant power, astaxanthin is 550 times stronger than vitamin E, and 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C. Its high-potency antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties allows it to address a vast array of health concerns, including joint problems, improved athletic performance, heart failure, brain health, protection against age-related macular degeneration.
Goji berries are a rich source of antioxidants, including a unique type known as Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. Native to China, they have been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. These have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and may help combat skin aging. Goji berries may also be very effective at raising blood antioxidant levels.
Working out leads to more oxidation and an increase in free radicals. Since free-radical production is a normal response to exercise, taking a large dose of antioxidants right after a workout could interfere with the natural, beneficial response to exercise.
Vitamin A is a group of unsaturated nutritional organic compounds that includes retinol, retinal, retinoic acid, and several provitamin A carotenoids. Vitamin A has multiple functions: it is important for growth and development, for the maintenance of the immune system and good vision.
Beta carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits, especially carrots and colorful vegetables. Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A, an essential vitamin. Beta carotene is a carotenoid and an antioxidant.
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, so it is an essential dietary component. Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism.
Vitamin E is the collective name for a group of fat-soluble compounds with distinctive antioxidant activities. Vitamin E is a nutrient that’s important to vision, reproduction, and the health of your blood, brain and skin.Foods rich in vitamin E include canola oil, olive oil, margarine, almonds and peanuts. You can also get vitamin E from meats, dairy, leafy greens and fortified cereals. Vitamin E is also available as an oral supplement in capsules or drops.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and a carotenoid, responsible for giving many fruits and vegetables their red color – like tomatoes & watermelons. Studies have found that Lycopene can protect your DNA, your prostate health, your skin and your bones.
Lutein is one of two major carotenoids found as a color pigment in the human eye (macula and retina). It is thought to function as a light filter, protecting the eye tissues from sunlight damage. It is called “eye vitamin”.
Selenium is an essential mineral, meaning it must be obtained through your diet. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that fights oxidative stress and helps defend the body from chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. It plays a critical role in metabolism and thyroid function.
Manganese is a mineral element that is both nutritionally essential and potentially toxic. It can be found especially in seeds and whole grains. It’s required for the normal functioning of your brain, nervous system and many of your body’s enzyme systems. When combined with the nutrients calcium, zinc and copper, manganese supports bone mineral density. This is particularly important in older adults.
Zeaxanthin is a carotenoid, and more specifically a xanthophyll, similar to lutein. Zeaxanthin is found in dark green vegetables and also in yellow-orange fruits and veggies. It can also be found in the yolk of eggs. As lutein and zeaxanthin are highly protective in the eye, and the eye is intimately connected to the brain, it is thought that these carotenoids are also protective of the brain.
Popular antioxidant supplements
Astaxanthin is a powerful, naturally occurring carotenoid pigment that’s found in certain marine plants and animals. Often called “the king of the carotenoids,” astaxanthin is recognized as being one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is a vitamin-like antioxidants, sometimes referred to as the “universal antioxidant” because it is soluble in both fat and water. ALA is manufactured in the body and is found in some foods, particularly liver and yeast.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a nutrient that occurs naturally in the body. CoQ10 acts as an antioxidant which protects cells from damage and plays an important part in the metabolism. Levels of CoQ10 in your body decrease as you age. CoQ10 levels have also been found to be lower in people with certain conditions, such as heart disease. CoQ10 is found in meat, fish and whole grains. The amount of CoQ10 found in these dietary sources, however, isn’t enough to significantly increase CoQ10 levels in your body. As a supplement, CoQ10 might help treat certain heart conditions, as well as migraines and Parkinson’s disease. CoQ10 comes in two forms: ubiquinol, the active antioxidant form, and ubiquinone, the oxidized form. In order to produce cellular energy and mitigate the signs of aging from oxidative stress and free radicals, the body must convert ubiquinone to ubiquinol. CoQ10 is not highly absorbable in the body, but ubiquinol is.
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Humans, unlike most animals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously, so it is an essential dietary component. Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters; vitamin C is also involved in protein metabolism. It is a type of antioxidant.
Resveratrol is an antioxidant-like compound found in red wine, berries and peanuts. Resveratrol supplements may help lower blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide. As an antioxidant, they may also decrease LDL . cholesterol odixation. Resveratrol has shown exciting cancer-blocking activity in test tubes and animal studies.
Typical vitamin E supplements contain only alpha-tocopherol, the best known member of the eight-member vitamin E family. The less known member, tocotrienol, due to small but important structural differences, can get more involved in profound biological processes, such as modulating gene expressions and regulating vital enzyme functions.
Tocotrienols have potent antioxidant effects and may have anticancer and anti-diabetes abilities. It is now apparent that studies showing little or no effect from vitamin E supplementation failed in part because they used only alpha-tocopherol, rather than also including tocotrienols.
Flavonoids are a group of what are called “polyphenolic” plant-derived compounds. They are found in certain fruits, vegetables, and other foods, like dark chocolate and wine. They have potent antioxidant power. Flavonoids may have the potential to help with heart health, cancer prevention, and other issues related to oxidative stress and inflammation, like allergies and asthma. They are also readily available in a healthy diet.
Catechins, a type of disease-fighting flavonoid and antioxidant. Green tea is about 30 percent polyphenols by weight, including large amounts of a catechin called EGCG. Catechins are natural antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and are the keys to tea’s health benefits.
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. They work as a natural antioxidant to protect the wine from aging. As antioxidants, they also have great health benefits for humans.
Polyphenols are a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants. There are more than 500 unique polyphenols. Collectively, these chemicals are known as phytochemicals.
Lignans are a group of compounds found in plants. They are a key component behind many of the health benefits attributed to soy beans and flax seeds. Lignans are antioxidants that may also support the immune system. Additionally, lignans are excellent for balancing hormone levels in the body.