Why Antioxidants are Important for You
Do you exercise regularly?
Do you live/ work in a polluted area?
Do you smoke cigarettes?
Okay, maybe you don’t do any of these things.
But: does your body convert food into energy?
Of course it does!
Why do these things matter? Because all these things can lead to an increase in compounds called ‘free radicals’ in your body. A high level of free radicals can lead to multiple illnesses and diseases, including cancer.
And this is exactly why our body needs antioxidants: they are a defence mechanism to keep these free radicals in check.
What are antioxidants?
As defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services, antioxidants are “man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.”
How does an excess of free radicals harm you? (Oxidative Stress)
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules. In high numbers, free radicals can cause something called ‘oxidative stress.’ This process triggers cell damage, leading to a variety of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
How do antioxidants reduce oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress can be reduced as follows:
- Avoiding or minimising environmental pollutants with oxidizing properties
- Maintaining healthy levels of the body’s internal and external antioxidants
- Reducing the generation of oxidative stress in the body.
What foods are rich in antioxidants?
Antioxidants are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble antioxidants act in the fluids inside and outside the cells in our body, whereas fat-soluble ones act primarily in cell membranes.
Dietary antioxidants are:
- Vitamin C (Water-soluble)
- Vitamin E (Fat-soluble; protects cell membranes against oxidative damage)
- Curcuminoids (found in turmeric)
- Oleocanthal (found in extra virgin olive oil.)
Some antioxidant-rich foods include berries, green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate. In fact, coffee is one of the biggest sources of antioxidants. Meat products also contain tiny amounts of antioxidants.
How much antioxidant should you consume?
WHO recommends that an intake of at least 400 grams of fruits and vegetables will have a positive effect on minimising the adverse effects of aging-related coronary heart diseases and atherosclerosis. Replace calorie-dense food with nutrient-dense food rich in health-enhancing phytonutrients, including key vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids.
Is too much antioxidant harmful? (Antioxidative stress)
Overdosing of antioxidants is very dangerous. A high dose of beta-carotene supplements can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Consuming high-dose vitamin E supplements can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke (a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain) and prostate cancer.
Important: Do not use antioxidants in place of a healthy diet. Do not use antioxidants in place of medical care. The National Cancer Institute recommends that people who are being treated for cancer talk with their health care provider before taking supplements.