Antioxidants and Free Radicals

I know you have heard of antioxidants and free radicals but would you be able to explain what they are or what they do?

Free Radicals: Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons. These scavenger free radical molecules are missing an electron in their outer shells and will do anything to fill them, including stealing electrons from your body’s cellular structures. Such stealing may damage DNA, proteins (enzymes), and cell membranes. When these cells are damaged, your body is damaged. This damage can lead to accelerated aging, memory loss, and chronic disease. **The majority of free radicals in our bodies are called reactive oxygen species, or ROS.

  • Free radicals can enter the body when you breath, when you burn calories, through smoke, air pollution, and toxic chemicals in the air and water.
  • Our brain is the most vulnerable target of free radicals, creating permanent damage to cells in the brain.
  • UV rays from the sunlight can also be a way that free radicals enter the body

Antioxidants:  Antioxidants protect neurons and cells in the brain by neutralizing free radicals by offering them one of their own electrons (think of an antioxidant like a generous family member). The good news is that antioxidants are found in abundance in nature and whole foods. The bad news is that most of us don’t eat or do not eat enough whole foods, fruits and vegetables.


What foods will protect you? 

Abundant evidence suggests that eating whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—all rich in antioxidants—provides protection against many diseases especially age related and memory diseases.

Vitamin E: due to its antioxidant properties, vitamin E has been shown to help fight against free radicals as well as prevent diseases that are caused by oxidative stress, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic inflammation, and neurologic disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia). Vitamin E has also been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol.

  • Food sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, and seeds

****When vegetable oils are heated, they lose much of their vitamin E content. Therefore, they are best consumed as a dressing or condiment.


Vitamin A – Carotenoids:  ” beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are well-known leaders in the fight to reduce the damage from free radicals. Foods high in carotenoids may be effective in helping prevent certain cancers and may help decrease your risk of macular degeneration.”1

  • Food sources of carotenoids include dark -green leafy vegetables as well as red and yellow colored vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli

Vitamin C: Also an antioxidant, vitamin C offers a wide-variety of health benefits. These benefits include protecting your body from infection and damage to body cells, helping produce collagen (the connective tissue that holds bones and muscles together) and helping in the absorption of iron and folate.

  • Food sources of vitamin C include the citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and broccoli

Please take note that their is minimal research out there that shows that consuming supplement sources of antioxidants protect against free radicals, food sources are the most beneficial and proven in obtaining the right amount of antioxidants to prevent against free radicals. So don’t supplement, just eat healthy!

Reference:

  1. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/antioxidants
  2. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/4/703.full
  3. http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/082508p50.shtml

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