Antioxidants are a group of vitamins, minerals, and chemical compounds that seem to help keep away diseases, and perhaps, some aspects of aging itself. Among the extended family of antioxidants are vitamin C and E, beta carotene, the mineral selenium, and a variety of other compounds found in fruits and vegetables.
What are Free radicals?
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that contain an unpaired electron. They are natural by- products of processes such as breathing and metabolizing food. They are also generated outside the body by air pollution, cigarette smoke, UV rays, and pesticides.
Since the unpaired electrons are highly reactive, free radicals can react with many cellular components, damaging the body’s cells. This cell damage may lead to diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cataract, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Capturing the free radicals:
Antioxidants protect the body by combining with free radicals before that can damage our cells. Providing antioxidants generously through foods or supplements may enable us to prevent disease.
Antioxidant- rich foods:
Vitamins C, and E, beta carotene, and the mineral selenium are the most celebrated antioxidants. The following foods contain antioxidants in high concentrations;
1. Vitamin C: citrus foods (oranges, lemons, and grapefruit), broccoli, peppers, strawberries, potatoes, cauliflower.
2. Vitamin E: nuts, vegetable oils, seeds, fish, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, wheat.
3. Beta carotene and other carotenoids: yellow, orange, and red vegetables and fruits (carrot, melons, mangoes, papayas, apricots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes), broccoli, spinach.
4. Selenium: fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken, garlic, liver.
Antioxidants which are of plant origin are known as phytochemicals. These have specialized functions like stimulating protective enzymes or inhibiting hormones. They all work as a group.
Among them are allylic sulfides (found in garlic), tannins (from in berries and green tea), lycopene (found in tomatoes, and watermelons), and resveratrol (found in red wine, grapes, and peanuts).
Tannin, found in green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a potent phytochemical. Vitamin C is more effective than vitamin E.
Importance of Vitamin E:
Daily intake of vitamin E has several health benefits;
1. Protect against heart disease
2. Reduce the risk of prostate cancer
3. Lower the incidence of death by various disease
4. Reduce skin damage, such as melanoma caused by exposure to sun.
5. Slows down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Foods or supplements?
Antioxidants are best obtained from foods rather than readymade supplements. Diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can greatly reduce heart disease and cancer, and slow down the progression of arthritis. Food items may also contain phytochemicals along with antioxidants which contribute to the free radical scavenging.
Safety of supplements:
Excessive intake may also cause adverse effects on health.
1. For a person who smokes, supplements cannot prevent heart diseases or cancer. Furthermore, intake of beta carotene can increase the risk of heart diseases.
2. Radiation therapy for cancer patients may become less effective, if they take in high doses of antioxidant supplements.
3. Vitamin C may prove to be harmful, in those who have high iron absorption.
4. Too much of Vitamin E may cause headaches, diarrhea, and even interfere with some medications.
5. In large doses, selenium can cause nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and hair loss.