You’ve probably heard of the word “antioxidants” before. It is often spoken of as the holy grail of maintaining good health, and can ward off chronic diseases. But just what are antioxidants exactly, and what’s so great about them? Well, read on and find out!
Antioxidants & Free Radicals
Before anything else gets more confusing, let’s sort out what these two things are. Both definitions are sourced from medicalnewstoday.com.
Antioxidants: Substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Free radicals: Waste substances (and unstable molecules) produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. This can harm cells and body function.
Why Are Free Radicals Bad?
On their own, free radicals are actually not all that bad. In fact, our body relies on these free radicals to fight infections. It’s only when there’s an oversupply of free radicals that things take a turn for the worse, resulting in oxidative stress. This stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, immune deficiency and a slew of other diseases. There are also different internal and external factors that can increase production of free radicals in the body. They could be anything from inflammation, pollution, excessive exercise, radiation, smoking, consumption of certain food and others. With that, you can see how easily it would be for our bodies to overproduce free radicals.
Why Are Antioxidants Good?
Antioxidants act as a buffer against the damage that free radicals can cause. In other words, antioxidants neutralise the effects of free radicals, keeping our bodies in optimum health. Also, “antioxidants” isn’t really the name of a substance per se, but it describes what a range of substances can do. Plenty of vitamins are antioxidants, the most well-known ones being vitamin A and C. Each antioxidant has a different function, and is not interchangeable with another. There are also two sources of antioxidants, which are natural (from plant-based foods) and artificial (in the form of supplements).
So We Should Aim To Have As Much Antioxidants As We Can?
Not quite. The important thing is to keep our body in a balanced state and that includes having a healthy balance of both free radicals and antioxidants. Just like everything else, an oversupply of antioxidants may prove to be harmful, producing reverse effects instead. The reason why we stress so much on antioxidants is because most of us tend to produce more free radicals compared to antioxidants due to lifestyle or environment. To get your daily dose of antioxidants, simply pick up a variety of fruits and vegetables – most are naturally high in antioxidants. Food that are colourful are said to have the most antioxidants as well, such as blueberries, apples, broccoli, spinach, goji berries and pomegranates. While antioxidant supplements are available, it’s still best to get them naturally!