In the recent years, there has been a lot of talk about antioxidants but very few people know what they are. Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize (fight) free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules we cannot see by the naked eye that can harm body cells. There must be a good balance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, it can lead to a state called oxidative stress. Antioxidants help support the health of all vital organs such as liver, heart, eyes, kidney and can help to lower the risk of diseases affecting these organs. Prolonged oxidative stress leads to an increased risk of negative health outcomes, such as heart disease and certain types of cancer.
What causes free radicals to be out of balance?
There are a lot of causes of oxidative stress (the free radical imbalance) some of the main ones are:
- Smoking over time
- High alcohol intake over time
- Poor diet intake over time (lacks vegetables & fruits, high in fats and sugar)
- Infections e.g. fungal or viral infections
- High intake of supplements such as iron, zinc, and copper
- On rare occasions: antioxidant deficiency
Types of antioxidants:
Antioxidants could be water or fat-soluble, depending on the source and type.
Water-soluble antioxidants perform their actions in the fluid inside and outside cells, whereas fat-soluble ones act primarily in cell membranes.
Vitamins such as Vitamin C which is a water-soluble vitamin is a water-soluble antioxidant and, fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin E, Vitamin A are fat soluble antioxidants.
Minerals such as selenium also act as antioxidants.
Flavonoids (plant nutrients) which are the ones giving vegetables and fruits their colour also act as antioxidants, all sorts of phytonutrients, act as antioxidants.
The list of types of antioxidants is endless.
Sources of antioxidants
- Food sources: Antioxidants are mainly found in vegetables and fruits e.g. grapes, berries, but also found other renowned sources such as green tea, cocoa – dark chocolate and quality coffee.
- Foods that contain vitamins and minerals as mentioned above also benefit a human body with their antioxidant activity
- Antioxidant Supplement: The best strategy to ensure adequate antioxidant intake is to follow a diet rich in various vegetables and fruits, alongside other healthy habits.
- When the diet lacks variety, it lacks sufficient nutrients (vitamins and minerals) resulting in a more antioxidants need too. Our current lifestyle promotes excessive smoking, drinking and poor diet which increase free radical damage over time. This makes it important to supplement your diet well to reach daily nutrient requirements
- Antioxidants can be added into a health supplement as part of the vitamin and mineral blend or a supplement can only have vitamins which are antioxidants only. Antioxidants could also be added as extracts from plant sources e.g. Grape seed extract, turmeric extract. There are multiple ways in which antioxidants are presented in health supplements.
- Studies suggest that taking regular, high-dose antioxidant supplements may be harmful, but more research is needed in this regard.
Remember: to consult with your healthcare professional before taking at health or herbal supplement or medication.
References available on request.
Yours in health,