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Health Benefits Of Antioxidants

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Antioxidants are natural substances that are associated with several health benefits. By definition, they fight to prevent and delay cell damages caused by excessive oxidants in the body. 

They are found in abundance in foods like dark chocolate, pecans, and blueberries, and they could also be taken as supplements

Health Benefits Of Antioxidants

The research reviewed in this article shows the benefits of antioxidants, explains their indispensable role in our diets, and how they contribute to the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases, including cancer, macular degeneration, and heart diseases.


Understanding Oxidants And Free Radicals

The only thing we cannot stop doing is breathing. 

To stay alive, cells need energy. Cells need oxygen to convert chemical energy from food and release it as energy to produce energy. Still, this essential metabolic process cannot happen without generating critical byproducts- reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) [1]. 

ROS and RNS are generally described as Oxygen-Free radicals (Free Radicals) and non-radical species (oxidants). Oxidants are more stable than free radicals, but they can quickly generate free radicals in living organisms.  

Free radicals are unstable molecules, having one or more unpaired electrons in their outer shell. Their danger comes from these free electrons that enable them to react with various organic substances such as lipids, proteins, and DNA.  

Free radicals can either be good or evil; they can be beneficial or toxic compounds in the body. 

Low or moderate free radical levels are essential for the immune system; they are released to destroy invading microbes, guarding the body against diseases. Free radicals play a crucial role in cellular communication and intracellular signaling. They are used as messengers to regulate blood flow, modulate local blood clotting, and manage neural activities. 

High free radical levels cause oxidative stress, leading to damaging all cell structures. Excessive free radicals in the body are associated with chronic and degenerative diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's diseases, cancer, kidney failures, cataracts, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular and age-related diseases [2].


Antioxidants Fighting Back Oxidative Stress

Antioxidants are the counterpart of free radicals. Their molecules are stable and able to neutralize unstable free radicals by donating an electron. Neutralized free radicals cannot perform oxidative stress and cease to damage cells, stopping the chain reaction before damaging more cellular organisms [3]. 

While antioxidants will neutralize free radicals directly, they can also prevent their occurrence by removing the reactive nitrogen species before they start a chain-initiating catalyst. 

The role of Antioxidants is not limited to the prevention and neutralization of free radicals; they also work on recognizing degraded cells, removing oxidized proteins, and preventing their accumulation. 

Research has suggested that antioxidants could perform other mechanisms to exert their neutralizing effect, including hydrogen donation, enzyme inhibition, and gene expression regulation [3].


Sources Of Antioxidants

There are thousands of types of antioxidants known to us. Each comes from a different source and plays a unique role in fighting oxidative stress and healing damaged body cells.

Endogenous Antioxidants

Our bodies generate antioxidants as natural defenses against oxidative stress. Endogenous antioxidants are already released during the metabolic process. They are classified into two groups: enzymatic antioxidants and non-enzymatic antioxidants, both working as the first line of defense applied locally against detected high levels of free radicals.

Exogenous Antioxidants

Our bodies cannot produce many essential antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, Beat-carotene, Flavonoids, and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. 

These antioxidants must be acquired from food or supplements, thus called nutrient antioxidants. Some of these are extracted naturally from plants or developed chemically. Manufacturers in the food industry use such antioxidants to protect processed food from oxidization.

health benefits of antioxidants in our diet

Health Benefits Of Antioxidants

A balanced diet is critical to avoid oxidative stress and its induced diseases. That is the simple role of antioxidants to prevent degenerative diseases caused by cellular damage from excessive free radicals levels. 

While research denied many commercial claims that antioxidants are silver bullets for healthy life and longevity, the question remains, Which chronic diseases could be prevented or remedied by antioxidants? 

Heart Diseases

Taking vitamin E, a nutrient antioxidant, helped to reduce total cardiovascular mortality significantly. 

A study has included about forty thousand female participants taking vitamin E or a placebo over ten years. While the rates of major cardiovascular events were not reduced by taking vitamin E, a 25% reduction in mortality was observed in the group taking vitamin E. 

Another recent study from Israel provided evidence that vitamin E was efficient in reducing coronary heart disease among patients with type 2 diabetes. Nevertheless, other studies have failed to provide sufficient evidence that antioxidants may cause lower rates of cardiovascular diseases than in placebo [4]. 

Aging And Longevity

Researchers are after new antioxidants that can impose cell repairing and regeneration synergies to treat aging-related diseases and promote longevity.  

One approach is to develop an antioxidant programmed to target the mitochondria, thus efficiently inhibiting oxidative stress from its origin. 

Some rodent experiments have tested the administration of antioxidant supplements to test its effect in the short term. Results showed that the supplements taken over short periods of two weeks and fifteen weeks successfully improved brain and physical activities in old subjects to the same level observed in younger mice [5].

Age-related Eye Disease

A combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene can lower the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration by one quarter. 

The study led by the National Eye Institute (NEI) has confirmed the efficiency of antioxidant supplements among patients in the intermediate stage of the diseases or those in an advanced stage in only one eye. Even when used individually, the nutrient antioxidants could reduce the risk by about 17% [4]. 

Promoting Exercising

In observational studies, the research found that consuming food rich in antioxidants is linked to greater chances of exercising and lower chances of enduring cardiovascular diseases [2]. 

However, observational studies cannot account for other factors; the findings show that people who ate more vegetables and fruits have less chance of oxidative stress-induced diseases. 

exercising adults

Cancer

Few studies have been performed to evaluate the impact of antioxidants in reducing cancer risks. 

One study used a mix of antioxidants supplements, including low doses of vitamins C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc. The results suggest that the supplements reduced cancer risks among male participants because men seem to have had lower levels of beta-carotene at the beginning of the trial. 

Selenium supplement helped people with skin cancer inhibit cancer growth in various organs like the colon, lung, and prostate [4].


Benefits Of Antioxidants: Summing Up

Oxidative stress may endanger your overall health, especially if your diet is deficient in nutrient antioxidants. 

Antioxidants play a crucial role in preventing and reversing cell damage. Furthermore, research on antioxidants provides evidence of their role in evading chronic diseases. 

While health care providers may prescribe some antioxidant supplements for patients with nutrient deficiencies, they cannot simply replace a healthy diet or conventional medicine.

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614697
[2] https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants-in-depth
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249911
[4] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3982418/

Al Feky