Much Ado about Something – “Anti-oxidants”

Understanding Free Radicals -

Some free radicals are produced normally during metabolism, ageing and at times the immune system produces these cells to neutralize viruses and bacteria in our body. However, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, smoke and pesticides can also lead to the production of free radicals.

When a weak chemical bond splits, free radicals are produced which are highly unstable and react very quickly. They attack the nearest stable molecule, trapping its electron. When the attacked molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, leading to a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade into disruption of innumerable cells. Cell damage caused by free radicals is a major contributor to ageing, cancer, heart diseases, decline in brain function and decreased immunity.

Understanding Anti-Oxidants -

Anti-oxidants are stable chemical compounds which protect the body against free radical damage. They act as scavengers and neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons to the free radical molecule, hence stabilising them and putting a stop to the electron stealing reaction hence preventing further damage of cells.

However, free radicals outnumber the naturally occurring antioxidants in our body making it susceptible to free radical damage. In order to maintain the balance, it is important to consume foods high in antioxidants.

Understanding Anti-Oxidants -

Anti-oxidants are categorised into 3 types –

  • • Phytochemicals
  • • Enzymes
  • • Vitamins

PHYTOCHEMICALS are type of antioxidants that are naturally produced by plants to protect themselves against free radicals.

Phytochemicals are broken down into the following categories:

  • • Carotenoids - Carotenoids act as antioxidants within the body, protecting against cellular damage, the effects of ageing, and even some chronic diseases. It is not synthesized naturally and body is dependent on the diet. Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are a great source of carotenoids.
  • • Flavonoids are polyphenol antioxidants found in plants. They function as powerful antioxidants having a very important role in our metabolism. These are found in vegetables, citrus fruits, green tea, wine, kale, broccoli, etc.
  • • Allyl sulphides act as anti-oxidants and have shown to help reduce the risk of cancer by limiting the number of cancerous cells. Allyl sulfides are chemical compounds present in Garlic and Onions.
  • • Polyphenols help in regulating enzyme function and stimulating cell receptors and are divided into Phenolic Acids, Lignans, Stilbenes–Resveratrol. They have anti-inflammatory action and is important for liver function.

ENZYMES are antioxidants that are synthesized from our daily diets majorly from protein and minerals sources. These include superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, etc. The quality of the antioxidant enzyme is dependent on the quality of the protein source. In order for these enzymes to provide optimum antioxidant activity, they require co-factors such as iron, copper, selenium, magnesium, and zinc. Hence, the body requires a well-balanced diet to derive better health benefits.

VITAMINS are not produced in the body and hence, its intake through diet is essential. Common antioxidant vitamins include vitamins A, C and E.

Vitamin A exists in the form of Beta carotene and retinol.. It is a powerful carotenoid which protects against free radicals damage and prevents cataracts. This vitamin is most commonly found in milk, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, egg yolk, and dark green vegetables like spinach, kale.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant in the body. It helps in combating free-radical formation and helps to protect the skin from UV damage. The other benefits include aiding in tissue growth and repair, helps boost the immune system, promotes better iron absorption, and helps to regulate blood cholesterol. It is found in citrus fruits, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kiwi, amla, etc.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant in the body and is a primary defender against oxidation. It is important for maintaining healthy blood vessels, improving skin, and preventing coronary heart disease. It is present in nuts, seeds, vegetable and fish oils, whole grains (esp. wheat germ), fortified cereals, and apricots.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) ) is a vitamin-like substance produced by the body and is essential for the basic functioning of cells. The production of this substance decreases with age, and its reduction has been linked to the development of various age-related diseases and conditions. This is found naturally in organ meats as well as in fishes like sardine and mackerel. Vegetarian source includes spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.

Hence, in today’s world it is essential to increase antioxidant intake through these vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes through one's daily diet for optimum health. Like with most things involving our health, moderation is the key.

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