What are Antioxidants? How can they help me?

Antioxidants Concept or Anti Oxidants or Antioxidant

Oxidants and Antioxidants

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What are oxidants?

Oxidants are molecules which occur naturally as part of normal body processes such as metabolism and inflammatory reactions.   However, harmful oxidants (or ‘free radicals’), which are unstable oxygen molecules, may cause damage to body cells as they are extremely reactive.  Free radical damage, or oxidation, may cause oxidative stress and play a part in many illnesses and premature ageing because they work against the immune system.

 

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances which protect the body against oxidants by counteracting their negative effects and through controlling the build-up of them in the body. They are made in the body and are present in food, herbs and extracts (such as grape seed extract), which may inhibit the oxidation (chemical reaction) of other molecules, and hence defend the body’s cells.

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Source:  functionalfoodsblog.com

 

Antioxidants are found as carotenoids (antioxidants pigments) in many fruit and vegetables.  The pigments are responsible for the yellow, orange and red colours of the plants.  Lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin and beta carotene (which is converted into Vitamin A in the body) are important antioxidants that may help protect the body.  Anthocyanins are antioxidants found in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries.

Vitamins C and E and tocopherols are also important antioxidants found in many foods, particularly plant foods.  The minerals, zinc and selenium are antioxidants, found in food sources such as nuts, seeds, beans, pulses and brown rice.

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How can oxidants enter the body?

Oxidants are contained in substances such as:

  • Chemicals contained in food: Antibiotics used in animal feed which we consume when we eat meat, pesticides and fertilisers used on fruit and vegetables, emulsifiers and preservatives, colourants and artificial sweeteners, salt and fried food.
  • Chemicals contained in food packaging: The chemicals used in plastic which make it soft and flexible may leach into food.
  • Chemicals in the air: Exhaust fumes, industrial pollution.
  • Chemicals in water: Chlorine and fluoride are examples of chemicals which are oxidants.
  • Drugs
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol and cigarette smoke
  • Detergents, polishes, cleaning products, laundry products and fresh air sprays
  • Chemicals in glue and solvents, in, paint and fingernail polish
  • Paper products (chlorine is used to bleach paper).

 

Stress and over-exercising may also cause damage to body cells.

 

What can I do about it?

  • Reduce your exposure to the above oxidants where possible.
  • Try not to let plastic food packaging touch food, just cover it.
  • Try to select organic fruit and vegetables when you can which contain less chemicals.
  • Find ways to relax and keep stress levels to a minimum.
  • Reduce your overall intake of caffeine and alcohol and if you smoke, try to cut back or better still, stop!

 

Eating a wide variety of foods may ensure you get all the antioxidants you need.  Taking a supplement may be necessary for some people at certain times.  It may depend on your exposure to oxidants.  Examples of individuals who may benefit from supplementation of antioxidants include individuals wishing to try to delay the ageing process, those with Macular Degeneration and other degenerative diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and Parkinson’s Disease.

 

Sarah Lockyer,  Nutritional Therapist