What Are Antioxidants and Why Are They Good for You?
You’ve likely heard the term antioxidant a number of times here and there and wondered what it actually meant.
Here we will be diving into this topic and answering the question: What are antioxidants and why are they good for you?
Also known as “free radical scavengers,” antioxidants are molecules/substances that help to stabilize free radicals, thereby protecting your cells from the effects/potential damage they can cause.
Antioxidants essentially neutralize the adverse impacts of free radicals.
Free radicals are “unstable” atoms that can cause various types of cell damage (including DNA damage), which are produced as a result of a process called oxidation.
Oxidation is the result of many normal physiological processes that occur:
- As part of phase 1 of the liver detoxification process when your body is cleansing itself from various pollutants and toxins such as smoke, pesticides, etc
- As you breathe and your body metabolizes oxygen to be utilized for energy by your cells
- When your cells use glucose to produce energy
- When your immune system is fighting off a pathogen such as bacteria, fungus, or parasites
- As part of your stress response
- When metabolizing glucose/sugar
- And more
Free radicals are also produced at high levels by exposure to x-rays, heavy metals, pesticides, and environmental toxins such as smoke, industrial chemicals, air pollution, mold, and more.
A balance between antioxidants and free radicals is required so as to maintain health and the proper physiological function of the body.
If there is an imbalance between the amount of free radicals present in relation to the amount of antioxidants present, with fewer antioxidants to free radicals, an increase in “oxidative stress” can occur.
Oxidative stress refers to stress and damage that can be done to our cells as a result of being exposed to too many free radicals.
An increase in oxidative stress can contribute to the development of a variety of different medical conditions including neurodegenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc), diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, cataracts, skin conditions, and many others.
Additional symptoms of increased oxidative stress can include chronic fatigue, migraines, anxiety, and many more.
Furthermore, an increase in oxidative stress makes overall healing more challenging for the body. Making sure you are including plenty of antioxidants in your diet and healing protocol is a wonderful way of helping your body to heal more efficiently.
Sources of Antioxidants
There are certain kinds of antioxidants that are made by the body in addition to a variety of antioxidants that can be acquired via our diet. There are also ways to support your body’s ability to make antioxidants.
One example of an antioxidant that is made by your body is glutathione. Glutathione is often referred to as the “master antioxidant.” Glutathione is also essential for detoxification, immune function, nutrient metabolism, and much much more. It is a tripeptide that is made of the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) glycine, cysteine, and glutamic acid.
Some of the ways to help increase and/or maintain your body’s levels of glutathione include:
- Eating foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, rutabagas, bell peppers, and brussels sprouts. Vitamin C helps to maintain glutathione levels.
- Eating foods rich in selenium such as brazil nuts and good quality proteins. Selenium is a cofactor to glutathione, meaning it is part of the process that allows glutathione to fulfill its many necessary physiological roles.
- Eating foods rich in vitamin E such as almonds, beet greens, and collard greens. Vitamin E helps to enhance glutathione levels.
- Eating foods that contain higher levels of glutathione themselves, including avocados, okra, and asparagus.
- Supporting your liver, where a great deal of your body’s glutathione is made. Curcumin, dandelion root, and phosphatidylcholine are excellent natural liver supports.
- Ensuring that you obtain adequate sleep, as sleep helps to support the body in producing glutathione.
There are various forms of antioxidants found in whole foods which include phytochemicals, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. These include:
- Ellagic acid
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
- Superoxide Dismutase
- And more
It is important to include a variety of different kinds of antioxidants because they all work together and each contribute their beneficial actions in different ways.
Foods High in Antioxidants
Basically all forms of whole foods contain some degree of antioxidants, however there are some that contain higher levels than others.
The following foods are high in antioxidants and contain many of the phytochemicals, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals mentioned above which give them their antioxidant properties.
- Blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and strawberries
- Egg yolks
- Leafy greens: spinach, collard greens, kale
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage
- Citrus fruits
- Green & black tea
- Dark chocolate
- Pecans – it is best to roast pecans which reduces their anti nutrient content and makes them more easily digestible
- Spices – parsley, curry powder, cinnamon, mustard seed, dill, chili powder, cumin, sage, paprika, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, oregano, basil, thyme, tarragon, mint
It is important to note that many people who are chronically ill and/or have an expressive gene variant such as CBS or SUOX can be sensitive to sulfur, which includes foods high in indoles as well as cruciferous vegetables. While sulfur is of course needed and part of a balanced diet, it is important to remain aware of possible sensitivities here, which I will be covering further in future articles.
This is an example of how adhering to one’s own bioindividual needs is of the utmost importance and how everyone’s needs will differ.
Including antioxidant supplements in your daily supplement protocol can be a helpful way of ensuring that you are meeting your body’s antioxidant needs.
Click here to check out my top 3 go-to’s, that I’ve found to be the most effective and have taken for a number of years.
Additional Ways to Reduce Oxidative Stress
In addition to supporting glutathione production, making sure you include enough antioxidant rich foods in your diet, and taking good quality antioxidant supplements, the following are also ways to help reduce oxidative stress and its coinciding adverse impacts on your health:
- Reduce your exposure to air pollutants such as smoke, chemicals from conventional cleaners, etc/optimize indoor air quality
- Reduce stress levels
- Keep sugar consumption to a minimum
- Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils
- Avoid excessive amounts of exercise
As we’ve explored here, antioxidants are very important for your overall health, as they help to neutralize the adverse impacts of free radical atoms which have been produced as a result of oxidation.
Ensuring that you include a wide variety of antioxidant rich foods in your balanced whole food eating plan, supporting your body’s glutathione levels, using good quality antioxidant supplements, and taking the steps to further reduce oxidative stress are all the main ways you can give your body the antioxidant protection it needs.
This is a huge part of maintaining optimal health and a key area to focus on when adopting a healthy and healing way of life.
Like so many other folks, I have heard about antioxidants, but really haven’t thought much about them. Your article has made what they are and what they do for the body much more clear. I appreciate the detail you have offered in terms of foods that are beneficial. Fortunately, in your last long list, I enjoy almost all of the fruits and vegetables listed. I was wondering if a person eats some of all of the basic food groups and the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily, will that insure that these levels are what they should be. Thanks for the information.