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How to Ante Up Your Health with Antioxidants

by Caroline Fontein

You’ve probably heard of antioxidants. But do you know how they benefit your health?

Antioxidants are in everything from serums to lotions, creams and supplements. The range of their purported health benefits is just as vast. Some products claim they help with anti-aging, skin care and even hair growth. The verdict is still out on most of those claims.

What you should know is that antioxidants play an important role in your overall health. They help protect you against the multitude of free radicals that we come in contact with on a daily basis.

Free radicals? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss the picket signs. These microscopic molecules are everywhere, even in the air you breathe.

Despite their miniscule stature, free radicals can have a big impact on your health. They can damage your cells and DNA and contribute to chronic health conditions.

So where do they come from and how can antioxidants help?

Here’s what you need to know to ante up your antioxidant intake and support your overall good health.

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are highly-reactive species of oxygen and nitrogen or in more simplified terms (sort of), molecules that contain unpaired electrons. You might think of these free radicals as toxins that should be avoided. They are.

However, your body also generates free radicals as a byproduct of normal metabolism (when food is turned into energy).

Other potential sources of free radicals include:

  • Environmental toxins
  • Household chemicals
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Sunlight on your skin and eyes
  • Fried food (due to the oxidation that happens when fats and oils are heated)
  • Cooked and processed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Ultraviolet radiation

Free radicals come in many different shapes and sizes, but one thing they all have in common is an appetite for electrons. They’ll steal them from any nearby sources, like your cells, through a normal process called oxidation.

The result can damage and radically alter the losing cell’s complex biomolecules and components (lipids, proteins and DNA) and impair their function.

For example, free radical damage can change the instructions coded in your DNA or even make your low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) more likely to stick to an artery wall and cause potentially harmful plaque buildup.

What is oxidative stress?

Whether you realize it or not, your body is already at work making countless molecules to satisfy these hungry radicals. They’re called antioxidants.

It’s important to note that free radicals aren’t always bad (like that one friend). The physiological role of free radicals is associated with almost all of the body processes.

They’re an important part of you overall health, but like everything else, maintaining balance is key.

When there is an imbalance between the free radicals and antioxidants in your body, oxidative stress occurs. Many studies suggest that long-term oxidative stress can contribute to a range of chronic health conditions.

What are antioxidants and how do they help?

Antioxidants help maintain the integrity of your trillion or so cells by contributing an electron to neutralize free radicals and prevent acute damage, according to Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, one of our Scientific Advisory Board members, who also specializes in antioxidant research.

Your body produces some antioxidants. You can also get them from the foods you eat.

Dietary antioxidants work in a dynamic interrelationship with one another and with endogenous antioxidants, those synthesized in your cells. These include glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid and ubiquinone.

There are many different substances that can act as antioxidants or support antioxidant activity:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Phytonutrients, particularly the carotenoids and polyphenols (especially the flavonoids). Phytonutrients are found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

It’s thought that plant-based foods are some of the best sources of antioxidants. Studies suggest that the high content of polyphenolic antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are likely the main factor responsible for the beneficial effects that come from eating them. Fruits and vegetables also packed with many other healthy nutrients.

Some other foods and drinks that support antioxidant activity are:

  • Espresso
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Red wine
  • Berries (blueberry, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry)
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Bilberries
  • Chili (red and green)
  • Curly kale

How can an antioxidant supplement help?

Science and any nutritional health expert (us included) will always recommend eating fruits and vegetables as the best source for antioxidants. However we know that sometimes eating a well-balanced diet, just doesn’t happen. We’re guilty too.

In fact, most Americans fall short of meeting the daily recommended intake of fruit and vegetables. According to the Center for Disease Control, only about 12 percent of adults meet the daily fruit intake and only about 9 percent of adults meet the daily vegetable intake.

In addition to this, Blumberg explained that vitamin C and vitamin E are often called “shortfall” nutrients because many Americans fail to consume enough foods rich in these micronutrients. (To note: Phytonutrient antioxidants, like carotenoids and flavonoids, are found in fruits and vegetables.)

You may not be able to hide from free radicals, but you can do things to help support your body’s response to them. Antioxidants can help.

Now as for helping with free radicals in the human form. Well… that’s for another blog.


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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Caroline Fontein