Antioxidant : What are antioxidants?

benefits of antioxidantsWhat is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are the natural protective molecules found in foods like fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants protects our DNA and cells from free radical damage in our body which can cause cancer. Antioxidant actually refers to the chemical property of a substance, which is the ability to give a free electron.

How are free radicals produced and how do they damage our body?

We have millions of cells in our body. These cells are held together by a molecular bond. If the bond between the molecule is weak, it can split apart. This results in an unstable molecule which has an unpaired electron. This molecule is called a free radical. Free radicals are formed in our own body when we exercise. Other factors responsible for forming of free radicals are:

  • Pollution
  • Smoking
  • Environmental toxins
  • Radiation
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive exercise
  • Certain OTC drugs
  • Over exposure to the sun

In trying to make up for the missing electron, the free radicals attack the healthy cells in the body. When the molecule that is attacked loses its electron, it becomes a free radical and thus starts the chain reaction which results in the destruction of millions of molecules in our body. This chain reaction is called oxidative stress. In our every day life we see the result of oxidation on a rusting of metal or changing to a brown color in an apple.  But when oxidation happens in our body it can lead to variety of  health problems like:

  • Heart Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Edema
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Macular degeneration
  • Neurological diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Lung disease
  • Inflammation
  • Insulin resistance
  • Premature aging
What do antioxidants do to protect us against free radicals or what are the benefits of antioxidants?

Antioxidants stops the chain reaction of the free radical damage, by donating their free electron to the free radicals. The antioxidant nutrient itself does not became a free radical  by donating its electron because they are stable with or without the donated electron. Scientists have developed, what is known as the ORAC test which stands for oxygen radical absorbence capacity which measures the potency of an antioxidant  to absorb free oxygen radicals. Based on its ability to absorb free radicals, each food is given an ORAC score. Usually bright-colored fruits and vegetables have high ORAC scores. Here are some foods rich in antioxidants with their ORAC scores.

FOOD             ORAC SCORES

Tomatoes                  60

Cherry                        100

Broccoli                      130

Red Raspberry        210

Blueberry                  260

Acai berry             1027

Are all antioxidants created equal?

The answer to this is no. All antioxidants are not created equal because of the wide variety in the potency and effectiveness of  an antioxidant. Some antioxidants are more powerful than the others. For example green tea is more powerful than vitamin C. Your body needs a variety of antioxidants to stay healthy. Antioxidants work as a team and not in isolation.

Antioxidants are classified as :

  • Antioxidant vitamin : Vitamin A, B, C, D, 
  • Antioxidant minerals: Selenium, Zinc, Magnesium, Coenzyme Q-10, Iodide, Chromium, Copper, Zinc, Boron
  • Phytochemicals which are neither vitamin or minerals but flavonoids are from plant derivatives like:
  1. Quercetin : Found in apple, onion, tea, red wines.
  2. Xanthohumol: Found in hops and beer.
  3. Genistein: An isoflavone in soy.
  4. Luteolin: Found in celery and green pepper.
  5. Catechins: Found in tea.
  6. Resveratrol: found in red wine.
  • Hormones: Melatonin is an antioxidant hormone produced in the body and can also be taken as a supplement.
  • Carotenoids: Alpha carotene, Beta carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Astaxanthin.
  • Spices and herbs rich in antioxidants: Curcumin, Milk Thistle, Capsaicin, Mangosteen, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Basil, Parsley, Oregano, Turmeric, Clove, Ginger.
  • Antioxidant made by our body: 
  1. Alpha-lipoic acid.
  2. Coenzyme Q-10.
  3. Glutathione.
  4. Superoxide dismatuse, also called SOD
  5. Catalase
Foods high in antioxidants:
  • Beans and Legumes
  • All berries like blueberry, cranberry, blackberries, raspberry, strawberries, cherries.
  • Prunes
  • Apples Granny smith, gala, red delicious.
  • Plums
  • Artichoke
  • Russet potatoes
  • Green vegetables
  • Nuts like pecans, walnut, hazelnut.
  • Spices like Turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, oregano.
  • Green tea
  • Cocoa
  • Grapeseed
Why should you take an antioxidant supplement?

Our body has the ability to produce antioxidant and neutralize free radicals. While this could have been enough in past generations, it has become impossible given the present day nutrient and mineral depleted foods which is highly processed and full of pesticides. At the same time  poor food choices, inability to manage stress and environmental pollution, have rendered the natural defense mechanism in our body to be overwhelmed and  unable to protect us from free radicals. For that reason, it becomes very important for us to support our body by taking an antioxidant supplement.

Image Source:  Gúnna via Compfight

Antioxidant Harvard School of Public Health


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