The Antioxidants – Free-Radical Fighters
Antioxidants are basically a specific type of molecules that protect our body from the damages caused by the detrimental free radicals. Precisely speaking, antioxidants work as defenses against the disparaging actions of free radicals produced by our body during different processes. In this article we shall concentrate on the four major antioxidant nutrients – vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and selenium, as well as other natural antioxidants which show the maximum potential for the medical treatment.
The expression ‘antioxidant’ may appear to be somewhat complex, but, in reality, it is very easy to comprehend. While the prefix ‘Anti’ denotes ‘against’, the word ‘oxidant’ refers to reactive substances which accept electrons from other substances, which is, free radicals.
The term ‘oxidant’ has been derived from the word ‘oxygen‘. When you allow oils and meat to remain outside for a prolonged period, they start decomposing. In fact, oxidants are involved in the rancidity of these substances by means of a process known as oxidation. Precisely speaking, oxidation occurs when oxygen reacts with proteins and fatty acids to develop into free radicals, which are eventually responsible for decay. Another instance of oxidation is rusting, which is a reaction between oxygen and iron forming a fragile, peeling substance known as ferrous oxide or rust. Therefore, all things such as oxidation, decay, decomposition and burning express similar things – in brief, destruction caused by free radicals.
In effect, awareness regarding free radicals started as late as in the 1930s. This came to the light for the first time when a chemist at the Rockefeller Institute of the United States, Leonor Micaelis was perplexed over the cause of oils turning stale. In those days, the findings of Leonor were stimulating and they prompted great interest in the functions of the free radicals in our every day lives.
Consequently, antioxidants combat the harmful oxidation by means of counteracting the free radicals, which are responsible for the damages. It may be noted that the electron in a free radical does not occur in a pair and steals the missing electron from a normal molecule, making it a free radical. This is an unending process. In such a situation, an antioxidant actually supplies the mislaid electron or takes away the additional electron with a view to make the free radical stable. Subsequently, the antioxidant turns into a free radical, but its structure is such that it is several times less volatile and does not harm the other normal molecules. Unlike in the case of free radicals, the process of stealing or donating electrons stops when an antioxidant stabilizes a free radical. Additional biochemical developments only help to make the antioxidant process comprehensive, thereby, turning off a free radical unharmed.
In fact, the similarity of a nail lying on a freeway may also be useful in describing the manner in which antioxidants work. Provided the sweeper has been successful in removing the nail from the highway prior to a car running over the piece of metal, it would help in avoiding much damage. Alternately, provided the tires of the car are shielded with impassable coatings, the nail would not be able to cause a puncture even if the car runs over it. On the other hand, if the nail remains on the highway and any car with ordinary tires run over it, there will be considerable damage. For that reason, the antioxidants work like the highway sweeper or the impenetrable seals on the tires and put off any possible damage.
There are several different types of antioxidants within our body that protect us from ailments and other health problems. These antioxidants may comprise nutrients, amino acids, enzymes, proteins as well as other bio-chemicals.
Enzymes that function as antioxidants are produced within our body. These enzymes set off the developments those eventually guide the unnecessary, detrimental vigour of the free radicals to engender undamaging substances like water as well as regular oxygen. Primarily, there are three such enzymes, which include catalase, glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase.
The enzymes mentioned above are produced as well as work as antioxidants in majority of the cells in our body. In all respects, these enzymes are a part of ourselves. In the absence of the defending actions we would factually become flawed very easily. One of the reasons why dead flesh decomposes so rapidly is that these enzymes neither exist nor function in the dead cells of the dead flesh.
More often than not, the body responds to the existence of more free radicals by augmenting the production of enzymes that function as antioxidants within our body. An ideal example of this is the skilled athletes who, in comparison to majority of the people, generally possess elevated levels of these enzymes. Their bodies are attuned to tackle with the increased free radicals produced due to enhanced metabolism of arduous work outs.
On the other hand, the pressure and tensions of contemporary way of life coupled with the toxic side-effects of technology have augmented the burden of free radicals that we all have got to cope with. In fact, the preceding generations were not afflicted by problems like air pollution, pesticides, industrial wastes as well as deposits of herbicides and several other sources that generate free radicals. Therefore, the aptitude of our body to produce adequate amounts of enzymes that function as antioxidants is likely to be under pressure and may perhaps turn out to be deficient.
In addition to the antioxidant enzymes, there are also different other categories of antioxidant substances. There are a number of artificial or man-made antioxidants, including butylated hydroxyanisole (BRA), dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which are employed in the form of pharmaceutical agents as well as food additives. Additional normal antioxidants comprise amino acids containing sulfur and proteins, for instance, glutathione and cysteine, uric acid as well as several substances that are obtained from herbs.
Majority of the clinical trials make use of antioxidant nutrients for the purpose of human supplementation since they are not only most useful, but also inexpensive options. Among the various antioxidant nutrients the ones that are most useful in neutralizing free radicals are vitamin C, beta carotene (provitamin A), vitamin E and the vital trace mineral selenium.
Different from the enzymes that function as antioxidants, our body is unable to produce the antioxidant nutrients. Instead, the foods we ingest, such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and whole grains, supply these antioxidant nutrients in sufficient amounts. When these antioxidant nutrients are soaked up by the body during the digestive process, they pass through the bloodstream and concentrate in every cell as well as organ of our body with a view to combat free radicals. While they continue to extinguish the free radicals, the antioxidant nutrients become inactive, while some of them may possibly be reactivated later, and are ultimately removed from the body. As a consequence, it is necessary to continuously reload antioxidant nutrients by means of taking healthy diets. This is something akin to calories which need to be replenished all the time to keep up the energy levels.
It may be noted that the antioxidant nutrients work in harmony like a team to douse the free radicals. Time and again, the antioxidant nutrients also work in combination with additional categories of antioxidants, for instance the enzymes or synthetic antioxidants. It is worth mentioning here that no antioxidant functions in seclusion, but every one of them is an element of complicated biochemical series, something akin to the bucket brigades organized to extinguish the ‘fires’ attributable to the harmful free radicals. Simultaneously, all antioxidants possess a distinctive chemical arrangement as well as character, and they work in several specific functions, besides those performed as antioxidants.
The best antioxidant-rich foods
Besides being refreshingly sweet, several types of berries, for instance, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, provide us with plenty of antioxidants. Precisely speaking, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries enclose high amounts of proanthocyanidins – antioxidants that possess the aptitude to put off cancer as well as heart ailments. You may consume them in a drink in the morning, blend some on top of yogurt or cereal you eat in the morning or take delight in them in the form of a snack during the afternoon.
Among all the nourishing vegetables available, broccoli surely is the best, as this cruciferous vegetable encloses far more vitamin C compared to an orange, which the calcium content of broccoli is more in comparison to a glass of milk. Apart from being loaded with vitamins and minerals, broccoli is also packed with chemicals called phytonutrients that help us to combat numerous diseases. Broccoli also encloses another chemical called sulforaphane, which has been found to diminish the chances of developing several types of cancers. You may consume broccoli by steaming or boiling it. Alternately, you may also season broccoli using salsa or lemon to prepare a delectable side dish. In fact, broccoli is a powerhouse of several nutrients and it goes extremely well with salads, omelettes or even stir-fries.
People throughout the world use garlic in the form of a appetizing seasoning agent for almost all types of dishes. In fact, garlic offers numerous health benefits and these have been publicized in different countries for several centuries. For instance, people have been traditionally using raw garlic in the form of a natural antibiotic to eliminate various strains of dangerous bacteria. In addition, garlic is also employed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, get rid of heavy metals from our body, and also put off the chances of developing cancer. Garlic also functions in the form of an antiviral as well as antifungal agent. It may be noted that a solitary garlic clove encloses vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, potassium, iodine, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
Green tea is another important antioxidant, which has elevated levels of compounds called catechin polyphenols. Green tea is also known to facilitate weight loss. Within the body, these compounds work in conjunction with other chemicals to intensify the levels of fat oxidation as well as thermogenesis – a condition formed within the body by burning fat in the form of a fuel. Normally, one ought to try to consume at least three cups (750 ml) of green tea every day with a view to lose the extra pounds. In addition, it has also been found that green tea works to thwart the possibilities of developing cancer, heart ailments as well as high blood cholesterol.
Tomatoes are also very potent antioxidants. Tomatoes enclose a potent anti-cancer agent called lycopene. Findings of several studies have revealed that in comparison to beta carotene and vitamin E, lycopene, which is present in abundance in tomatoes, is more potent in combating diseases. It may be noted that presence of fat is essential for lycopene to ensure optimum absorption. Hence, when you put the nutritious fat olive oil in spaghetti sauce, it works excellently to augment the lycopene levels in the body. You may begin by incorporating additional tomatoes in your diet in various forms – whole, sliced, stewed, canned, sauced tomato or tomato paste.
Besides the antioxidant-foods mentioned here, there are several others, including spinach, red grapes, carrots and whole grains. Each of these foods contains as well as provides us with abundance of antioxidants.
- From Rohan Perera
- I’m taking vitamins that includes antioxidants for more than 20 years, and I’m free from a lot of complications due to old age.