Knowing benefits of antioxidants
will help you to choose
your antioxidant supplement
Benefits of antioxidants is a "must-read" material for everyone who cares about health and seeks healthy life.
There is so much information about antioxidants available today!
Savvy internet user can easily obtain tons of facts, charts and scientific papers about antioxidants. Materials are available about any particular antioxidant supplement. Many papers are written about foods high in antioxidants, natural antioxidants, antioxidant diet - and virtually any related topic (how about...hmm.. green tea antioxidants?).
On the downside, sometimes this information is too "technical" for a non-specialist (this would be most of us!). Chemical formulas are explained in biological terms, statistical data proves or disproves various hypotheses and claims - but instead of bringing a better understanding such websites just make me fall asleep...
On this page, you will find basic facts about benefits of antioxidants that you need to know while choosing your antioxidant supplement. These important antioxidants' facts are presented in a simple, live, no-nonsense language.
This page is the result of my own research effort.
I hope that this information will be useful for you.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are vitamins or nutrients that may help to prevent damaging effects of oxidation on your body's organs and tissues.
They achieve this by protecting cells of human body from the damage done by "free radicals".
Protection of body cells is the main feature and root cause for all benefits of antioxidants.
What are these free radicals, and why they damage cells?
From the name "ANTI-oxidant" you can see that the function of these nutrients is somehow opposite to oxidation. You also might guess that benefits of antioxidants are somehow related to "fighting" oxidation as it were a bad thing...
Well, here is the situation.
Oxidation process can be described as "flame of life". Oxidation is a change in a chemical when atoms lose their electrons. This process constantly occurs to produce energy within our body. The natural by-products of this process are free radicals: atoms which lack electrons. These free radicals cause aging and other complications.
The older we become, the larger amount of free radicals could be accumulated in our bodies - and the more severe is the cell damage as a result of this.
Free radicals are damaging cells and cell membranes because they "steal" electrons from cell molecules. This change may result in a chain reaction, when more and more molecules will lose their electrons. This makes the whole cell work in a "wrong" way - and this is what may cause a decease!
Of course, a single cell would not make much of difference. Many cells would need to be damaged before any symptoms will appear.
There are many factors in our life which are contributing to an increase of free radicals in our bodies. Some of these factors are:
How can free radicals hurt you
Dr. Lester Packer was a Professor and Senior Researcher at the University of California at Berkeley for the past 40 years.
His colleagues called him "Dr. Antioxidant" for his passion to the topic. During his career he studied many different kinds of antioxidants, and published various articles (scientific and popular) about benefits of antioxidants. Here is how he describes dangers of free radicals.
“Don’t underestimate the threat free radicals pose to our health. Scientists now believe that free radicals are causal factors in nearly every known disease, from heart disease to arthritis to cancer to cataracts. In fact, free radicals are a major culprit in the aging process itself."
Here is a partial list of conditions caused by free radicals. The total number of diseases is about sixty.
- Inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
- Acceleration of the aging process
- Certain cancers, triggered by damaged cell DNA
- Damage to nerve cells in the brain, which contributes to conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease
- Increased risk of coronary heart disease, since free radicals encourage low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to adhere to artery walls
- Deterioration of the eye lens, which contributes to blindness.
Protect Your Eyesight provides the information for you to save your eyesight. Learn about your eyes so you know how to prevent injuries, illnesses and blindness, and how to prepare for anything that might occur.
Dr. Packer continues about benefits of antioxidants:
"By controlling free radicals, antioxidants can make the difference between life and death, as well as influence how fast and how well we age.”
Free radicals and antioxidants
One way to protect cells from free radicals is to provide body with molecules which could be used as targets for oxidation - instead of molecules that make cells and membranes! These special molecules are antioxidants: they are able easily and with no harm to lose, or to accept electrons.
So, the major feature of antioxidants is that they neutralize free radicals, thus preventing potential damage. All benefits of antioxidants are the result of this feature.
Sometimes I see the following explanation of how do antioxidants work: "Antioxidants destroy free radicals"...
This is not true.
Antioxidants do not "destroy" free radicals. Rather, they prevent free radicals from destroying healthy cells.
List of antioxidants
Some of antioxidant supplements are well known to nearly everyone: these are vitamins A, E, and C.
Some minerals are serving as antioxidants too, for example selenium, zinc, copper.
Third group are elements found in plants, or animal products. To name just a few: alpha lipoic acid, lycopene, lutein, coenzyme Q10, beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids.
Some antioxidant supplements "work together" in pairs, empowering the effect of each other. Vitamins A and C are such pair.
All antioxidants serve similar function, however each of them has a unique role within your body. As a result, benefits of antioxidants of different kinds are also different, and depend on specific function that each antioxidant serves.
For example, Coenzyme Q10 is supporting cardiovascular functions.
Lutein has been proven to prevent negative impact of oxidation in the eyes.
Zinc is a powerful immune system booster.
Alpha Lipoic Acid is a "universal" antioxidant, due to the fact that it can dissolve in both fat and water.
As a result, it is not enough to take a single antioxidant supplement, because the purpose is to "get covered" as much as possible.
That means, it is not good enough to take, for example, only vitamin C, as it will not cover all areas and organs in your body which require antioxidants. You could take up to the maximum allowed amount of the vitamin C - this will not compensate your body in case you need more lycopene, for example.
When we talk about benefits of antioxidants, the amount is not so important. The number of different antioxidants absorbed by your body - this is the key! You need to consume a variety of different antioxidants. This is a crucial point that you need to remember while looking at antioxidant supplements.
Foods high in antioxidants
It is because of that variety of antioxidants that should be consumed, a general suggestion from health care specialists is to eat five to nine or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Colorful plant foods are better, such as purple, dark green, yellow, orange, blue, and red ones. Plants of different colors contain different antioxidants.
Orange color indicates vitamin A (oranges, carrots).
Dark green foods (spinach, green peppers, celery) contain lutein.
Red and yellow foods - red peppers, oranges, corn - can provide zeaxanthin.
Lycopene is a red pigment very common in tomatoes.
Carotenoid family of antioxidants are common in brightly colored foods such as carrots, red peppers and many yellow fruits and vegetables.
As you can see, the color of your food not only makes it look pretty on your plate, but also indicates the presence of strong antioxidants.
Many superfoods (foods which have health benefits beyond those of common foods) became popular thanks to benefits of antioxidants which they contain. Some superfoods contain antioxidants along with other necessary nutrients.
Flaxseed, for example, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, contains lignans - unique compounds with powerful antioxidant features. Read more about omega-3 and flaxseed on omega-3-for-your-health.com.
In 2004 USDA conducted a comprehensive research of the antioxidant content of commonly consumed foods. Among highest ranked foods are artichokes and beans. Such common food as Russet potatoes is also an excellent, although lesser-known, source of antioxidants.
"The bottom line is the same: eat more fruits and veggies," says Ronald L. Prior, Ph.D., a chemist and nutritionist with the USDA's Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center in LittleRock, Ark., and lead author of the study.
Reference: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 17, 2004. Click here to see the paper abstract)
Antioxidants in berries
From all foods, berries are recognized the most for the amount and diversity of antioxidants. A single berry specie may contain dozens of antioxidants. The richest in antioxidants are exotic berries: acerola, wolfberry (goji berry) and acai.
From more common berries, wild blueberry is a leader, followed by blackberries, plantation-raised blueberries, cranberries and strawberries.
Juices from many berries are part of gel antioxidant supplement EXO, along with juices from other plants and fruits rich in antioxidants. EXO is made from juices of 17 different plants known for their great taste - and great health benefits.
Benefits of antioxidants information
1. National Cancer institute, a web page that discusses specific benefits of antioxidants related to cancer prevention
2. Council for Responsible Nutrition
3. United States Department of Agriculture, a page about dietary supplements
4. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements
5. US Food and Drug Administration, Dietary Supplements page
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