Antioxidants are molecules possessing the ability to slow down the oxidation process of other molecules. Precisely speaking, oxidation is a chemical process wherein electrons or hydrogen are relocated from a natural substance to any oxidizing agent. Such reactions are damaging as they often turn out free radicals that subsequently result in a series of chemical reactions of these detrimental radicals. Occurrence of such chain reactions in any healthy cell may result in the death of the cell. Antioxidants work to counteract or prevent such chain reactions by getting rid of the free radicals' intermediates. In addition, antioxidants also lessen the risks of cell damage and help to accelerate the recovery process. These molecules are also helpful for maintaining our health in general.

Scientists across the world have been studying the defensive mechanisms and effects of antioxidants. For example, it has been found that men consuming lots of the antioxidant called lycopene (present in tomatoes) on a regular basis possibly face lesser risks of developing prostate cancer compared to men who do not eat this antioxidant.

Another antioxidant, lutein, which is found in corn and spinach, has been associated with lesser cases of degeneration of eye lens and blindness, especially in aged people. Similarly, it is believed that flavonoids like tea catechins, which are present in significant amounts in green tea, are responsible for the fewer incidences of heart disease among people in Japan.

Various plant-based foods contain high levels of antioxidants. These beneficial substances are found aplenty in fresh vegetables and fruits, in addition to several other foods such as whole grains and nuts. Meat, fish and poultry products also contain significant amounts of antioxidants.

Sources of antioxidants

Antioxidants are plentiful in vegetables, fruits, poultry, some meats, fish, nuts, and whole grains.

Some sources that are rich in specific antioxidants are:

  • allium sulphur compounds - onions, leeks, garlic
  • anthocyanins - grapes, eggplant, berries
  • beta-carotene - mangoes, pumpkin, apricots, spinach, carrots, parsley
  • catechins - tea, red wine
  • copper - lean meat, seafood, nuts, milk
  • cryptoxanthins - pumpkin, red capsicum, mangoes
  • flavonoids - green tea, tea, citrus fruits, apples, onion, red wine
  • indoles - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower
  • isoflavonoids - tofu, soybeans, lentils, milk, peas
  • lignans - bran, sesame seeds, vegetables, whole grains
  • lutein - corn, spinach
  • lycopene - pink grapefruit, tomatoes, watermelon
  • manganese - lean meat, seafood, nuts, milk
  • polyphenols - oregano, thyme
  • selenium - offal, seafood, whole grains, lean meat
  • vitamin A - sweet potatoes, liver, carrots, egg yolks, milk
  • vitamin C - blackcurrants, oranges, mangoes, kiwifruit, spinach, broccoli, strawberries, capsicum
  • vitamin E - avocados, whole grains, seeds nuts, vegetable oils
  • zinc - lean meat, seafood, nuts, milk

The proper functioning of our immune system largely depends on antioxidants and, hence, they are essential for our body. Our immune cells make free radicals in the process of their normal defensive functioning. When the free radical levels in the immune cells exceed the normal level, it usually has a damaging consequence on our immune system. Then again, high levels of antioxidants, which forage and neutralize the free radicals inside the cells, help the immune system to function robustly. Actually antioxidants boost our immunity. It has been found that any kind of imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in the immune cells, often caused owing to deficit of single or even multiple antioxidants, generally leads to poor functioning of the immune system.

Antioxidants also promote the health and functioning of the immune system by undertaking various vital roles in signal transduction, cellular metabolism, transcription and gene activation. It has been established that high density lipo-protein (HDL) or "good cholesterol" helps to slow down the oxidation of low density lipo-protein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, which is responsible for ailments like various cardiovascular diseases and atherosclerosis. HDL or "good" cholesterol works to put off activation or any dysfunction of endothelial cells, conserving the health of the endothelial cell lining as well as lowering the deleterious consequences of the oxidized LDL cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol in the blood stream. In addition, HDL cholesterol also reduces the intensity of the thrombogenic factors.

Antioxidants work by getting rid of the harmful free radicals from the blood stream, as they prevent these unpaired radicals from stealing electrons from the healthy molecules. Antioxidants offer numerous health benefits. Findings of many scientific studies have established that these substances help to prevent the untimely aging of the skin, while improving the texture of the skin. At the same time, antioxidants shield the skin from damages caused by the ultra-violet rays of the sun and also lessen incidences of sunburn.

Antioxidants can assist in putting off age related ailments such as:

  • Alzheimer's
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Cancer
  • Immune dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
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