You’ve probably heard the word antioxidants so many times online and in healthy living publications. Antioxidants seem to be the answer to numerous health problems and are supposed to help with all kinds of issues including boosting the immune system, improving digestion, and protecting against cancer and heart disease.
But what exactly are antioxidants? How do antioxidants work and where can you find them? Do you really need antioxidants to be healthy?
Here we take a look at the what, why, and where for antioxidants, and find out about antioxidant health benefits and where you can get antioxidants for improved wellbeing.
What Exactly are Antioxidants?
An antioxidant is a substance found naturally or it can be manmade. An antioxidant is used to help prevent cell damage and cell death in the body – literally, an antioxidant helps to protect against the oxidization processes in the body that can cause cell damage. Some examples of antioxidants include beta carotene, selenium, vitamin A, C, and E, lutein, and lycopene.
What About Free Radicals?
Your body naturally forms free radicals, which are molecules, when you convert food to energy and when you exercise. You can also form free radicals when you are exposed to cigarette smoke, sunlight, pollution, and other environmental factors. We can control free radicals to some extent, in that we can stop smoking and we can stay safe in the sun, but we cannot control them entirely since the body makes them naturally in response to natural processes.
Free radicals are a cause of a syndrome called oxidative stress. This oxidative stress is harmful to the body and can potentially cause cell damage. When cells are damaged, depending on which part of the body they are in, it can result in a greater risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and diabetes among others. Antioxidants are thought to combat this oxidative stress. They act, in effect, against the free radicals when they are formed in the body.
Where Do You Find Antioxidants?
You will find antioxidants in many fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants. There are many benefits to eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and one of the main benefits is this increase in antioxidants that you receive. Eating more fruit and vegetables is also a quick and easy way to improve your diet generally as these foods bring numerous health benefits. The most commonly known antioxidants include flavanols which are found in chocolate, lycopene, which is from tomatoes, resveratrol, from wine, and beta carotene.
So Should I Just Eat More Antioxidants For Health Benefits?
It is not as simple as drastically increasing your intake of antioxidants for health benefits. You need a mixture of antioxidants. There has been a flood of antioxidant supplements on the market in recent years that capitalize on the public’s new-found love of antioxidants. But if you take too many, it can actually affect how your body reacts to free radicals, suppressing your natural antioxidant system.
Do Antioxidants Work?
Studies have been mixed about how antioxidants can help prevent disease and improve health. It is very hard to tell with certainty whether one particular antioxidant is making a difference, when there are so many other factors in play. And lab tests are not helpful as they cannot show what happens once the substance is absorbed into the organ where it is needed. Scientists are carrying out many different tests into antioxidants but science has still not provided the concrete answers needed.
Are There Any Dangers With Antioxidants?
In some cases, taking high doses of antioxidant supplements can cause health problems. If you smoke and you take beta carotene it can increase your risk of lung cancer. Vitamin E can raise the risk of prostate cancer when taken in high doses. And if you take antioxidant supplements they may interact with other medication. It is important to talk to a healthcare provider if you are taking high-dose antioxidant supplements.
It is recommended that you increase your intake of antioxidants through your diet, since it is near impossible to get too much from foods. So what should you eat? Choose blueberries, for a start. These little fruits are rich in antioxidants. And also look at other berries as well as green tea, cocoa, black pepper, bell peppers, pumpkin, kiwis, and even coffee. There are countless sources of antioxidants that you can successfully add to your diet.
If you eat berries and other fruits, eat them with the skins on so that you get the full benefit, since the skin is where the antioxidants mainly are. And don’t forget about the herbs and spices you can use for an antioxidant boost. You may not use large quantities of any herbs when you cook with them, but use them regularly and you may see the difference as the quantity adds up.