Over the last couple of decades, more and more emphasis has been placed on antioxidants - you've probably seen many magazine articles and news features talking about antioxidants and how they can help to protect our bodies from dangerous free radicals...
Antioxidants are found in several different forms; vitamins, minerals and enzymes. When we eat, our bodies use the energy from our food for fuel, essentially providing us with essential life force. Our bodies convert carbohydrates and oils into water and carbon dioxide, providing our bodies with energy that gets released from these molecules. We need a constant and consistent supply of this energy to ensure good health and perform all vital functions needed to support life. Without enough fuel, we feel tired, hungry, dizzy and weak, signalling a need to provide more energy to keep us going.
When our bodies draw on fuel to provide energy, as part of this process, free radicals are produced. This is a normal effect, but during this process, some of the free radicals escape and create issues that can have a detrimental effect on our health – they attack a healthy molecule in order to provide stability, and can continue to attack further molecules, resulting in a chain reaction that can have disastrous consequences. Free radicals can also come as a result from other, external factors, such as cigarette smoke, pollution and herbicides.
Antioxidants can help to control these escapee free radicals to limit the damage that they can do and keep our bodies in balance. Without this vital element of control, free radicals, if left unchecked, can lead to accelerated ageing, cell damage and an impaired immune system. This, in turn can put us at a higher risk of contracting degenerative diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Antioxidants are used by our bodies to ensure that free radicals are kept under control, while our bodies burn fuel for energy.
Which vitamins, minerals and enzymes are antioxidants?
Some antioxidants that act as free radical scavengers are produced naturally in the body. There are 4 different enzymes that can neutralise the effect of free radicals which are: superoxide dismutase (SOD), methionine reductase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. However, it's also important that we get a good supply of nutrients, including antioxidants, to keep these unwelcome free radicals under control.
Antioxidant vitamins - vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin A are all crucial antioxidants, along with vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and vitamin K.
Antioxidant minerals - minerals with antioxidant properties include selenium, sulphur, manganese and zinc.
Additionally, co-enzyme Q10 and many bioflavonoids, along with the hormone melatonin, all have antioxidant properties and are therefore crucial for good health.
By working against the damaging effects of free radicals, these antioxidants, along with the other nutrients we ingest, keep our life force working at an optimal level, providing us with energy and good health. Unfortunately, in a world where many of the foods that we eat are heavily processed, many of these important antioxidants are taken from foods and therefore, they don’t always provide the vital support that we need against free radicals.
Good health is all about balance, despite their contribution to free radicals, we still need to eat a good balance of foods that provide pro-oxidant fuel – we then need to provide our bodies with antioxidant nutrients to counteract the effects caused by too many free radicals forming and attacking the body.
How do I get enough antioxidants in my diet?
In order to get enough antioxidants in your diet, you need to eat a variety of fresh, whole foods – those that haven’t undergone any heavy processing, which deteriorates the antioxidant properties that they can provide. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices, and sprouted grains, are good ways of ingesting essential antioxidants to keep your energy and fuel well balanced and to combat the formation of too many free radicals.