Health Effects of Antioxidants, Free Radicals, and Oxidative Stress
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What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are simply a group of molecules that contain an extra electron. This extra electron can be “given” to another molecule, but unlike free radicals the molecule remains stable after the electron is removed.
This electron removal process is called oxidation. After an antioxidant gives up its electron, further oxidation, by the free radical which receives the electron, stops. Oxidation is the process which causes rancidity or food “going bad.”
Similarly, oxidation is a damaging process in our bodies, so minimizing unnecessary oxidation can help avoid or reduce the likelihood of several health problems like certain types of cancer and heart disease.
What are free radicals?
Free radicals, like antioxidants, are a group of molecules that contain an extra electron. This extra electron causes it to be reactive or “eager” to find an additional electron. Unlike antioxidants, though, free radicals may contribute to damaging chain reactions if not neutralized by antioxidants.
The body creates free radicals during chemical reactions that occur while exercising as well as during digestion. One’s environment can also cause free radical production. Smoking cigarettes, breathing polluted air, and having too much sun exposure are all environmental causes.
What is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress occurs when the body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to balance the amount of free radicals that are being produced. When this happens, free radicals react with other molecules in the body causing damage to various cells and tissues in the body. This damage can lead to diseases and other long-term problems.
Oxidative stress can be lessened by consuming a variety of antioxidants from high-quality food sources. For the free radicals that come from environmental sources, reducing exposure will allow the balance to be restored. Quitting smoking, moving away from polluted areas, and blocking more of the sun’s rays reduce the amount of free radicals generated in your body.
Are antioxidants part of a healthy diet?
Given the necessity of antioxidants for healthy body function, it’s important to make sure your diet consists of a variety of antioxidants.
While the function of antioxidant molecules is similar, each antioxidant is unique. The antioxidant properties of one molecule may appear in certain situations but not in others. In fact, some antioxidants may have an opposite or “pro-oxidant” effect at times.
Some antioxidants are naturally produced in the body (e.g., uric acid), while others must come from our diet. Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), for example, is not naturally produced by humans, but many plants are capable of producing it internally.
What foods contain antioxidants?
The primary sources of antioxidants in the diet are fruits and vegetables. Since antioxidants aren’t interchangeable, you need to consume a variety of antioxidant-containing foods to maintain a proper amount of these free-radical fighting molecules.
Vitamin C is found in a variety of vegetables and fruits like broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and many more. Almonds, leafy greens, and peanuts are some of the many foods that contain vitamin E.
Carotenoids, a chemical that gives fruits and vegetables colors, are another antioxidant. Beta-carotene, from carrots, and lycopene, found in tomatoes, are examples of carotenoids.
Beef and poultry also contain antioxidants in the form of selenium and zinc. However, selenium is also available from plant-based sources like brazil nuts, barley, and brown rice. Zinc is present in pumpkin seeds, lentils, and cashews as well.
There are many other foods and drinks that have antioxidant chemical properties. Taking the time to improve your diet and consume higher quality foods will ensure that you’re getting plenty of antioxidants to manage free radicals and reduce the impact of oxidative stress.
Do you want to improve your diet?
It can feel like there’s always one more thing to keep track of when it comes to managing your diet. If you’re looking to make positive changes, it can help to find the areas which can provide the biggest benefit in the shortest amount of time.
Dr. Inman wants to help you improve your diet intelligently. For instance, she may recommend undergoing food-sensitivity testing to see if you may benefit from reducing particular types of foods in your diet.
Alternatively, laboratory testing, like the Cellular Nutrition Assay (CNA) could provide more detailed information about which antioxidants your body needs and your current nutrition levels. Everyone has unique responses to nutrition; this test will help you understand your body’s response.
On the other hand, you may simply wish to have a guide on your health journey. Dr. Inman’s nutritional counseling service is a great first step in the process. Click the button below to schedule your initial appointment and start your journey toward a life full of the benefits of a healthy diet.