Antioxidants 101

Have you been getting your dose of antioxidants? No? Better late than never!

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants, put simply, are compounds found in foods, and also produced in the body, that help counteract the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. 

What are free radicals?

Free radicals are unstable and reactive molecules that are byproducts of chemical reactions in the body or created from toxins in the environment. 

Free radicals aren't the enemy per se as they occur from natural processes inside of the body, however, in excess they can create real damage by promoting a state of oxidative stress. 

They do this by basically stealing electrons from other molecules which then creates more free radicals.

This can damage our DNA, cells, and tissues, accelerate aging, and increase inflammation. 

This is important to be aware of because the reality is that we are being increasingly exposed to toxins and accumulating more free radicals than ever before, due to factors such as lifestyle, external pollutants, and diet. These levels often accumulate beyond the body's ability to process and regulate them.

This is why a balance between antioxidants and free radicals is crucial in order to maintain proper physiological function. 

Certain conditions are thought to be a result of excess free radical damage such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cancer, and atherosclerosis, but also many other health concerns. 

 Some causes of increased free radical production and oxidative stress: 

  • X-rays
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Air pollution
  • Sun exposure
  • Environmental chemicals
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hydrogenated oils and trans fats
  • Processed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Stress

So where do antioxidants come into play?

Antioxidants can help counteract the negative effects of free radicals by slowing down the aging process, repairing damaged molecules, and shielding cells from free radical damage (1)

They also help support detoxification and may reduce the risk of cancer.

Eating antioxidant-rich foods is the best way to limit the damage caused by free radicals over time. 

What exactly are antioxidants?

There are certain antioxidants that can be created in the body however most will be found in foods. Antioxidants are numerous and include glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, coQ10, carotenoids, polyphenols, resveratrol, astaxanthin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (found in green tea), vitamin C, and vitamin E. 

Though the body can produce antioxidants, its ability to do so declines with age and this can be compromised if free radicals outnumber antioxidants.

Which is why we strongly recommend eating antioxidants through your diet on a daily basis!

Where can you find antioxidants?

When you think of antioxidants you should always think of bright and colorful fruits and vegetables as these foods tend to provide a variety of these compounds. Blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, goji berries, kale, beets, spinach, and raspberries are all great sources if you want to get your dose of antioxidants. 

However, you might be surprised that herbs are actually one of the most potent sources of antioxidants!

According to the ORAC database which rates the antioxidant levels in foods, some of the highest rating foods include cloves, green tea, coffee, ginger, dark chocolate, oregano, peppermint, thyme, cinnamon, and turmeric. 

What about supplementation?

Supplements are another way to boost antioxidant status, however too much can also cause damage. Nutrition should always be your main focus and source of antioxidants, however, some supplements that can be particularly effective at protecting against free radical damage include ubiquinol, glutathioneastaxanthin,  and resveratrol. 

Remember, quality always trumps quantity!

Top tips to boost your antioxidant status while lowering free radical formation. 

  • Incorporate slower movement like yoga or walking into your daily routine
  • Manage your stress
  • Sleep 7-9 hours every night
  • Eat fruits and vegetables in their raw form
  • Avoid smoking
  • Practice grounding exercises like walking barefoot, spending time in nature, tree-hugging...
  • Minimize electronic use 
  • Reduce sugar, alcohol, and processed food consumption

Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.
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