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Antioxidants for Health & longevity

Antioxidants are a hot topic among researchers, nutritionists, health-conscious people and those who would like to be more health-conscious than they are.  There is considerable debate among researchers on the benefits of antioxidant-rich foods or supplements for treating or preventing diseases. In addition, it is not completely clear which antioxidants in the diet promote health and in what amounts should they be taken, besides recommended dietary intake.  Some authors  dispute that antioxidant vitamins could prevent chronic diseases and call the role of antioxidants ‘a hypothesis.’ What some researchers call ‘a hypothesis”, others call a radical new way of treating diseases, maintaining our health and prolonging life.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are compounds that prevent or slow down oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in our body that produces free radicals, unstable molecules that may damage our cells. The body produces free radicals when affected by environmental and other pressures. Antioxidants ‘gobble up’ free radicals, what earned them the name “free-radical scavengers.” Our body produces some antioxidants and certain plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants.

 

Free radicals are waste products created by our cells as our body reacts to various stresses and processes food. Normally, our body eliminates free radicals, but if it cannot, they cause highly damaging oxidative stress. 

The increased production of free radicals in our body is caused by internal causes like inflammation, or external effects such as pollution, tobacco smoke and UV exposure.

Oxidative stress has been linked to a number of diseases such as cancer, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, immune deficiency, respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s disease, emphysema, and other conditions.

Antioxidants are believed to neutralize free radicals in our bodies, protecting us from oxidative stress and consequently boosting our overall health.

Causes of oxidative stress can be:

  • excessive exercise;

  • mitochondrial activity;

  • inflammation; 

  • injury;

  • ischemia;

  • reperfusion injury;

  • consumption of processed foods, artificial sweeteners, trans fats,  some dyes and additives;

  • pollution;

  • smoking;

  • radiation;

  • exposure to pesticides, drugs and  other chemicals including chemotherapy;

  • ozone.

 

Oxidative stress causes cell damage, leading to:

  • free iron or copper ions excessive release;

  • increased production of enzymes that create free radicals;

  • phagocytes activation. Phagocytes are white blood cells that fight infection;

  • interruption of electron transport chains.

 

Researchers believe that free radicals create changes in our cells that lead to atherosclerosis, cancer, vision loss and other conditions.

One study shows that “Antioxidants act as radical scavenger, hydrogen donor, electron donor, peroxide decomposer, singlet oxygen quencher, enzyme inhibitor, synergist, and metal-chelating agents.”

Other research proves that antioxidant supplements reduce age-related vision loss due to macular degeneration.

Compounds That Act As Antioxidants

“Antioxidant” is not really a substance, but a description of what antioxidants can do.

Some external antioxidants (that come from outside our body) include:

  • Vitamins A, C and E;

  • Beta-carotene;

  • Lycopene;

  • Lutein;

  • Selenium;

  • Manganese;

  • Zeaxanthin;

Plant-based antioxidants are, among others:

  • Flavonoids;

  • Flavones;

  • Catechins;

  • Polyphenols;

  • Phytoestrogens.

Each antioxidant has a different function. You cannot replace one with another so it is important to have a varied diet.

 

It is important to understand the difference between “antiradical” and “antioxidant” activity. The antiradical activity is the ability of certain chemical components to affect free radicals in a single activity. Antioxidant activity is the ability of certain components to inhibit oxidation.