Weapons in the war against free radicals
In the supplement, cereal, and beverage aisle, you see all sorts of things labeled as being “high in antioxidants.” You assume that’s a good thing, and while you’re not sure why they’re good for you, you go ahead a buy the product. Good news: you just made a great choice!
Antioxidants have gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and for good reason. Your body needs them to stay healthy in an environment bombarded with free radicals.
For those wondering what antioxidants and free radicals are, here’s a simple way to understand them. Free radicals are unstable molecules created by oxidation. Oxidation is the chemical reaction that takes place when your body processes food into energy, undergoes stress, or experiences overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Your body also generates free radicals when exposed to chemicals in the air (pollution, smoking, or secondhand smoke) or in the food you eat (pesticides or herbicides). Over time, these free radicals damage your body’s healthy cells and the genetic material found in them.
Don’t worry, though, because the story doesn’t end there. Your body has a powerful defense system against free radicals in the form of antioxidants. These vitamins, phytochemicals, and nutrients (found in foods, supplements, or naturally produced by the body) prevent or slow cell damage by making the unstable molecules stable.
Here’s a more detailed look at why your body needs antioxidants.
Oxidation caused by the sun, smoking, or pollution damages collagen, the substance in skin responsible for keeping your exterior looking young, supple, and wrinkle-free. Eating antioxidant-rich foods and applying topical antioxidant creams to the skin work to protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals and keep your collagen intact.
A few of the most effective antioxidants in the fight against aging skin include Vitamins E and C, resveratrol, flavonoids, polyphenols, and retinol. Load up on these to fend off skin deterioration.
Your brain isn’t immune to the negative effects of oxidation. The damage caused by free radicals can lead to mental decline, age-related diseases, and possibly Alzheimer’s. Though research is ongoing, two antioxidants in particular, vitamin E and flavonoids, may help protect brain cells from oxidative stress. Fill up on these and watch your mental capacity skyrocket!
Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to all parts of the body. This important job becomes difficult due to inflammation caused by free radicals. When arteries aren’t able to effectively do their job, blood pressure increases, the heart is strained, and cholesterol can quickly build up, all dangerous risk factors for heart disease, a leading cause of death across the globe.
Antioxidants work to prevent and reverse inflammation in the body and in the arteries (thus restoring normal blood flow), protect the blood vessels in your heart, prevent damage to blood vessels, and reduce bad cholesterol. Resveratrol found in red wine and the phenols in nuts are two antioxidants associated with heart health benefits. Too much of the antioxidant beta-carotene, however, may have a negative impact on the heart.
It’s easy to take good eyesight for granted. Keep your eyes functioning at their potential by protecting them from oxidative damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two key antioxidants that protect your eyes from the damage caused by oxidation, reducing your risk of cataracts and macular degeneration (both top causes of vision loss). Kale, turnips, collards, spinach, and broccoli are all wonderful sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.