Antioxidants play a critical role in our lives. So, whether they occur naturally or human-made (supplements), they are worth discussing. Antioxidants combat free radicals in our bodies and keep us healthy.
You may not be new to discussions regarding the dangers of high levels of free radicals pose to the body. Many health professionals and health journals discuss the capacity of free radicals, which are unstable molecules, to cause severe harm to the body.
The big question is how antioxidants work! We understand their role in keeping free radicals at bay. But how do they carry out this function? Continue reading to learn more!
What Are Antioxidants?
Nature has always worked out ways to protect humans. Humans, on the other hand, have made giant strides in taking care of themselves via the discovery and development of diverse substances (drugs). Excitingly, one of those critical compounds, which also occur naturally, is antioxidants.
So, antioxidants can be natural or made by humans. The natural ones are obtained from diets rich in vegetables and even fruits. Without these antioxidant-rich foods, our only hope of combating free radicals would be to depending supplements, which are human-made.
What are antioxidants? The term “antioxidants” refers to substances (natural or human-made) that help to protect our cells from the claws of free radicals. These free radicals, which are unstable molecules, can give rise to several life-threatening diseases.
As humans, our body is always under threats posed by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a product of an imbalance that occurs between antioxidants and free radicals in the body. Free radicals are molecules that contain oxygen but have an uneven amount of electrons. They cannot stay uneven much longer. And as a consequence, they end up pairing up with other electrons.
The activities of these free radicals can cause severe damages to proteins, DNA, and cells. Free radicals have also been linked to several life-threatening conditions. These include cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, among others. Aging is another condition related to free radicals.
These free radicals are formed from most of the things we depend on to survive. So, the claim that we are always under severe attack is not out of place. For the records, free radicals are in the air we breathe, the food we consume, and even the water we drink daily. The medicine we take whenever we are unwell is another substance that can generate free radicals in the body.
So, in summary, free radicals can be human-made or occur naturally. In other words, they can be caused by any of the following;
- High blood sugar levels.
- Air Pollution
- Alcohol intake
- Use of tobacco
- Industrial solvent
- A deficiency in antioxidant.
- Fungal, bacterial, or viral infections.
- Substances in canned or processed foods.
- Consumption of trans fat and artificial sweeteners
- Excessive or too little oxygen in the body.
- Environmental toxins such as pollution
- Ultraviolet (UV) rays the sun produces or tanning beds.
- Exposure to harsh chemicals like pesticides
- Chemicals the body generates during the transformation of food into energy.
- Performing intense exercises for an extended period, which can damage the cells.
So, these are some of the ways free radicals develop in the body and cause diverse health challenges. But then, the body, on its own, produces antioxidants, which helps to protect our cells from these attacks.
Free Radicals: How They Create Problems In The Body
Wherever the term “antioxidants” is mentioned, free radicals are always used. The reason is that antioxidants are there to help fight free radicals. Without them, free radicals will have a free hand to react and possibly cause instant death of an individual. It can be that devastating.
However, we cannot eradicate free radicals. The wise step that one can take will be to maintain a proper balance. When there is an equal amount of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, then there will be no need to panic.
But when there are more free radicals than antioxidants in the body, the former has the upper hand and can wreak havoc in one’s body. If nothing is done, the reaction can lead to oxidative stress. Furthermore, when oxidative stress remains and grows in the body for an extended period, one’s DNA could pay the ultimate price. The DNA could be destroyed, and what follows is the development of cancer or other diseases that can reduce one’s quality of life.
So, it is necessary to maintain a balanced ratio of antioxidants to free radicals for healthy living.
Is It Normal For The Body To Produce Free Radicals?
Free radicals are not produced only in unhealthy individuals. Being healthy or unhealthy has nothing to do with the production of these oxygen-containing molecules.
It is usual for our bodies to produce free radicals. However, some of the foods, activities, and things we expose ourselves to contribute to raising their levels in the body.
Can free radicals be of any benefit?
The answer is yes. Free radicals serve a critical function, which could be vital for one’s health. So, they are not all that bad. As said earlier, the only condition under which free radicals could be dangerous is when they outnumber the antioxidants in the body. In this case, the antioxidants cannot act. They can only watch the free radicals destroy the DNA, cells, and do nothing.
Nevertheless, when there is a balance between antioxidants and free radicals, the latter cannot act destructively.
Now, how do free radicals benefit the body health-wise?
They are used by the body’s immune cells to combat infections.
Signs Of Oxidative Stress: What You Need To Know
How can you tell if oxidative stress is building up in your body? Below are the signs that you may notice.
- Decreased eyesight
- Muscle or joint pain
- Brain fog or loss of memory
- Susceptibility to infection
- Wrinkles and grey hair
- Increased sensitivity to noise
How Antioxidant Works: The Fight Against Free Radicals
Antioxidants became a critical topic in the realm of nutrition and science in the 1990s. What led to its prominence was the discovery of free radicals. Scientists were able to trace the development of chronic and life-threatening diseases like cancer, heart diseases, and others, to free radicals.
Following a series of clinical trials that were conducted, scientists were able to spot the beneficial effect of antioxidants in the fight against free radicals. These antioxidants help to ensure that free radicals are kept in check in the body throughout one’s existence.
Antioxidants are molecules that exist in our cells, whose function includes the prevention of free radicals from paring with other electrons to create severe damages. Instead of allowing the free radicals to pair with electrons, antioxidants volunteer themselves to make the supply.
In other words, they can give out an electron to the highly unstable free radicals without becoming unstable themselves. With that, they can fight and put a stop to free radical chain reactions.
How You Can Tackle Oxidative Stress: Antioxidants & Other Must-Know Steps To Take
It is best not to wait for signs of oxidative stress to start taking care of the body. But then, these conditions can buildup in one’s body without prior notice. Nevertheless, when you notice the signs mentioned above, know it is time for you to act.
However, there are two methods you follow to tackle oxidative stress. One is by boosting the antioxidants in the body, and you can do so via natural means or by supplementing (human-made). The natural antioxidant is the one the body makes on its own. It gets them from fruits and vegetables and makes the antioxidants available for use.
There are other ways to tackle oxidative stress, which are the day to day steps one can take.
Let’s discuss how to tackle oxidative stress through the use of antioxidants and other processes.
1. Boosting antioxidant production:
Intake of supplements and antioxidant-rich foods
One of the decisions one can take to tackle oxidative stress, which is a product of free radicals, is to boost the production of antioxidants. When you consume antioxidant-rich foods, the body will swing into action and produce more antioxidants to keep oxidative stress in check.
You may have heard about the word “glutathione.” It is an effective antioxidant that the body produces. Glutathione is a product of three amino acids – glutamate, cysteine, and glycine.
The reason glutathione is highly effective is because of the sulfur it contains. Also, glutathione is made in the liver, when we ingest the right amount of sulfur-containing foods or amino acids.
Glutathione is also a water-soluble compound that deserves an accolade for its immense contribution as an antioxidant and the regeneration of carotenoids, intracellular enzymes, and vitamin E in the body.
However, because we tend to hydrolyze this compound in the stomach, taking glutathione boosters as a supplement can help to increase its levels in the body, to help combat oxidative stress.
The supplements recommended for boosting the production of this compound include methylsulfonylmethane and acetylcysteine. And the recommended dosage is 1000 mg once per day and 600 mg twice per day, respectively. Other supplements include zinc, selenium, magnesium, vitamin D, C, and Milk Thistle.
Besides these supplements, there are diverse foods we can eat to help the body produce a high level of glutathione. Below are some excellent examples:
The medicinal plant, elderberry is also beneficial. Its flowers and berries are loaded with antioxidants that can help to boost one’s immune system, lessen stress and tame inflammation.
Use of herbal sources to boost antioxidant
Herbal sources can also help to increase the antioxidants present in the body. They are not only crucial for weight loss. Below are some herbal sources, which, according to research, can help to raise antioxidants levels.
- Green tea
- Curcumin (turmeric)
2. Other steps you can take to tackle oxidative stress
There are different ways to keep oxidative stress at bay. The first one we discussed was boosting antioxidants. But this time, you need to take drastic measures to stop oxidative stress by making personal efforts daily.
When one becomes sick, the body’s immune system swings into action to combat the disease. But just as a vehicle releases carbon monoxide when it’s working, the immune system creates oxidation while trying to eliminate the disease.
That is why, whenever one is sick, energy is drained from the body. So, to prevent oxidation from happening, do everything possible to avoid infection.
Give the body enough rest
Humans are not machines that can work round the clock. We need rest and a lot of it. So, try to factor in some breaks or rest periods in your busy schedules. Remember that you can only continue working or making money when you are healthy.
Your rest periods don’t need to be 24 hours, maybe on weekends, while you work for extended periods during weekdays. Instead, try to plan for smaller breaks in between your daily routine. You can go outside and interact with nature, breathe in some fresh air, meditate, or take a nap.
Embrace organic and pesticide-free foods. You should also start leading a healthy lifestyle. Avoid tobaccos, excessive consumption of alcohol, and be careful of the personal care and cleaning agents you are using in the house.
Stay away from processed foods
The body produces oxidation as a result of the food we consume. A good example is when we eat processed foods that contain high sugar. The body produces oxidation when it tries to process these sugars.
In addition to sugar, processed foods also contain chemicals that can encourage oxidative stress. So, if you want to prevent oxidative stress, then you must avoid such foods at all costs.
Antioxidants are beneficial to all humans. Without them, the human race may have been wiped off from the surface of the earth. Antioxidants help to keep free radicals at bay. Ordinarily, if these free radicals are allowed to thrive in one’s body, they could cause severe damages to the internal organs and even instant death. So, there is a need to know and appreciate the role antioxidants play in keeping us alive and healthy.