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Antioxidants: Protecting Cells from Oxidative Stress

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The power of antioxidants in supporting wellbeing

Antioxidants are well known to be beneficial to us, but their potential health benefits may go even further than we thought. Studies have shown that Vitamin C, for example, is a natural antioxidant that plays a role in the healing of wounds by producing collagen. It is also thought that Vitamin C can help to reduce cholesterol, by transforming it into bile acids before it builds up in the liver.1

By understanding what antioxidants, or ‘free radical scavengers’ are, and learning how they can affect our health, you will be opening yourself and your body up to one of the most powerful nutritional tools available to us.

Antioxidants and free radicals – use one to prevent the other               

Antioxidants help protect us from oxidative stress. By ensuring we have enough exposure to antioxidants, we are better able to detoxify our bodies of free radicals and keep healthy.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress occurs when the production of free radicals within the body, and the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects, suffers an imbalance. Numerous factors can lead to an increase of free radicals, and therefore an increase in oxidative stress; both from internal and external sources. Inflammation or damage to the mitochondria; the powerhouses of our cells, are major factors. Cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants and exposure to radiation will also contribute to oxidative stress.

Can oxidative stress be prevented?         

While oxidative stress may sound scary, it is a perfectly normal phenomenon in the body.2 That being said, there are ways to help ourselves in the prevention of oxidative stress. One of the easiest things you can do is simply remove as much exposure to free radicals from your lifestyle as possible. If you are a smoker, try to cut back or, ideally, give up altogether. Try to avoid city pollutants and wherever possible take walks in the fresh air instead.

Healthy eating is also a great form of prevention from oxidative stress. Aim for a healthy diet that is rich in a variety of foods containing antioxidants. You may be unsure of which foods these are, but many of the well-known vitamins and minerals are antioxidants so if you familiarise yourselves with those, and the foods that contain them, you will be well on your way to a great healthy eating routine.

Types of antioxidants

Antioxidants need to be broken down in order to be absorbed. Some of them are water soluble, while others are fat soluble, and studies have shown that each has a number of health benefits.

Water soluble

AntioxidantHow they can support your body
Vitamin CVitamin C contributes to maintain the normal function of the immune system and blood vessels, and the normal functioning of the nervous system and immune system
Vitamin B2Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress
FlavonoidsA study from a research group from the Department of Bio-Engineering, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi, Jharkhand (India) and MGM’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Mahatma Gandhi Mission (India)3 has suggested that flavonoids contain anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.
ManganeseManganese contributes to the maintenance of normal bones and to the protection of cells from oxidative stress
PolyphenolsPolyphenols found in olive oil contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress

Fat soluble

AntioxidantHow they can support your body
Vitamin EVitamin E contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress
SeleniumSelenium contributes to the maintenance of normal hair and nails, and to the normal function of the immune system
CarotenoidsA study conducted by study from the Department of Botany, Birla College, Kalyan, India (B-carotene)4 has shown that carotenoids cannot be manufactured by the body naturally, so should be supplemented in your diet
ZincZinc contributes to the maintenance of normal bones, nails, hair and skin
CopperCopper contributes to normal functioning of the nervous system and immune system

Natural sources of antioxidants

For detailed information on the antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide, you can consult an Antioxidant Food Table. 5

Foods high in antioxidants           

While many foods contain antioxidants, plant-based foods are generally higher in antioxidant content than animal-based or mixed food products.5 Whichever diet you follow, the following list of foods show how you can integrate lots of beneficial antioxidants into it:

Plant-based foods:     

  • Fruits: Dried apples, lemon skin, dried plums and dried apricots
  • Berries: Dried amla (Indian gooseberry), fresh crowberries, bilberries, black currants, wild strawberries, blackberries, goji berries, sea buckthorn and cranberries
  • Vegetables: artichokes, curly kale, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, red and green chili
  • Spices and herbs: clove, peppermint, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, saffron and estragon
  • Nuts and seeds: walnuts, chestnuts, pistachios, peanuts and pecans, sunflower seeds
  • Legumes: beans and lentils
  • Grains and grain products: buckwheat, millet and barley flours, crisp bread and whole meat bread with fibre
  • Dark Chocolate

Animal-based foods6:

  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Fish

Drinks high in antioxidants

It’s not just foods that can be high in antioxidant value. The following types of drinks are rich in antioxidants and well worth including in your diet. 

  • Tea: green tea, black tea

While both are great antioxidant drinks, green tea is superior as, unlike black tea, it has not been fully fermented, meaning that more of the antioxidants are available as they’ve not been lost to oxidation7

  • Coffee,especially espresso
  • Red wine

Excessive alcohol consumption is not good for your health, but red wine contains antioxidants, so drinking a glass of red wine every now and then could have some health benefits.

  • Juices: pomegranate juice, grape juice and prune juice

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