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You have probably heard the word “antioxidant” circulating around in the world of nutrition and health. Unfortunately, very few people are actually sure of what the term means (which somewhat makes sense since it is a bit complicated). Antioxidants just seem to be right about everywhere. You will start hearing about antioxidants and their benefits once you decide to pay attention to the diet you are taking or when you start reading about some popular health conditions and their remedies. The topic of antioxidants is quite large but worry not because this article will help answer most of your questions regarding antioxidants.
What Are Antioxidants?
Our bodies contain numerous substances like proteins, genes, and DNA, all of which are basically molecules containing thousands of atoms that are linked together. Chemical reactions often take place when the molecules are built up or broken down through the body metabolic processes. If in this process a molecule loses an electron that it should not have lost, the molecule becomes a free radical – which is an unstable, electrically charged molecule whose reaction can result in the damage of other molecules such as our DNA.
Antioxidants are what react with such free radicals by taking up the place of the missing electron, neutralizing any charges it might have and preventing it from harming other molecules in the body.
The Different Types of Antioxidants
There are numerous ways in which you can classify the innumerable antioxidants present in our bodies. One of the easiest and most common ways is to consider their sources and general functions. Using this method, one can easily classify antioxidants into minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, hormones, enzymes and coenzymes, metabolic factors, antioxidant amino acids, and byproducts. Let’s expound on the types of antioxidants based on the classification mentioned above.
Vitamins are often described as the substances that the body requires in order to grow and develop naturally. Additionally, vitamins also come in handy in processes like repair of worn out tissues and cells as well as energy metabolism. And while there are about 13 vitamin types, not all of them bear antioxidant functions. Let’s take a look at the vitamins that have antioxidant functions:
1. Vitamin A
This vitamin tends to take the active form of retinoic acid and retinol in the body. This type of vitamin is obtained from butter, eggs, liver, vegetables and many types of fruits.
2. Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid, this vitamin has excellent antioxidant functions. Some good sources of this vitamin include tomatoes, bell peppers, kiwis, strawberries, citrus fruits,and an array of vegetables and fruits.
3. Vitamin D
This vitamin is commonly referred to as the sunshine vitamin since the body is able to produce it when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Alternatively, this vitamin can be obtained from oily fish, fortified milk, and eggs.
4. Vitamin E
This vitamin is known to work closely with vitamin C to protect the body cells. Some good sources of this vitamin include peanuts, wheat germ, and vegetable oil.
5. Vitamin K
This vitamin type is also popularly known as the coagulation vitamin since it is essential for the series of processes that lead to the clotting of blood. Besides that, this vitamin is also known for its antioxidant properties. It aids in protecting against the oxidative damage to the lipid or fatty layers of the body cells.
6. Folic Acid
While folic acid is essential for proper fetal development and heart health, research indicated that it also promotes the antioxidant activities of particular enzymes in the body.
The essential minerals are basically what you must get from supplements or your diet in order to remain healthy. Most of these minerals bear antioxidant properties or are crucial in promoting the antioxidant activities of other body compounds. Some of these minerals include manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and iodine. Medical practitioners often explain that you can easily meet your mineral requirements by incorporating an array of nutritious foods in your diet. Dairy products, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, and vegetables are notably high in specific minerals. In some cases, however, supplements could be necessary or healthy.
Phytochemicals are essentially the chemicals that are produced by plants, and they include carotenoids, Allyl sulfides, flavonoids, resveratrol, and glucosinolates. And as research tends to explain, phytochemicals can have nutritive properties despite being plant chemicals. There are dozens of phytonutrients or phytochemicals that bear antioxidant properties, and the chances are that there are still more that are yet to be discovered. Some of the most common phytochemicals are carotenoids, and they include lutein, beta-carotene, and lycopene, which are found in many vegetables and orange fruits. Another class of phytochemicals is flavonoids, like flavonols and anthocyanidins, which are compounds often found in grapes, berries, citrus peels, and apples. Allyl Sulfides are common in onions and garlic; resveratrol is present in red wine while glucosinolates are present in specific leafy veggies.
Antioxidant Enzymes and Coenzymes
Enzymes are basically compounds that catalyze reactions in the body while coenzymes can help with enzymatic reactions. Enzymes and coenzymes are both known to contain antioxidant properties. Some of the most common antioxidant enzymes and coenzymes include superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione reductase and thiol antioxidants.
Hormones serve to regulate all the major aspects of the body’s growth and environment, like thermal regulation, nutrient metabolism, and maintaining stable blood sugar composition in the body. Antioxidant hormone-like melatonin will not only regulate your sleep cycle but also scavenge any free radicals in the body as well as stimulate the antioxidant activity of some enzymes.
The huge number of antioxidants is also inclusive of those that are not well-classified. For instance, citric acid is utilized commercially as a preservative and antioxidant and can be easily found in citrus fruits. Oxalic acid is yet another antioxidant that is present in most dark green veggies like broccoli and spinach. And while these acids bear a negative reputation for interfering with nutrient absorption or causing kidney stones, they also have their benefits because of their excellent antioxidant properties.
Functions of Antioxidants
Within the body cells, antioxidants serve the purpose of protecting vital molecules, like DNA, from oxidizing the molecules that can lodge themselves inside the body cells. They accomplish this through:
Binding to the oxidizers
Some antioxidants will bind to the oxidizing molecules thus preventing them from interacting with any other vulnerable molecules. Some of the antioxidants will even carry oxidizers like heavy metals out of our bodies through the kidney and bloodstream.
Shielding the vulnerable molecules
Some antioxidants will attach themselves to some of the essential molecules – like the DNA – and act as “buffers” thus preventing any oxidizing molecules from getting to the DNA molecules.
Some types of antioxidants will actually repair any oxidative damage inflicted on body cells. Such antioxidants normally carry an additional hydrogen atom or electron which they can donate to any molecules that have lost theirs as a result of oxidation reactions.
Some antioxidants function as messengers that promote cell suicide through the process of apoptosis. While this does not sound so protective, body cells that have suffered severe damage by oxidation can turn out to be cancerous. In this light, the damage controllers will protect the whole cell thus preventing it from becoming cancerous.
Antioxidant Food Sources
When it comes to acquiring nutrients, your diet must be the primary source. If you take an unprocessed and balanced diet that is full of raw, high-quality organic foods, particularly fruits and veggies, your body will gain the crucial antioxidants and nutrients it needs to maintain or achieve optimal health. Here are some of the top recommended sources for the different types of antioxidants.
A majority of the vegetables we consume, particularly the green leafy vegetables are rich in phytochemicals, which are essentially plant compounds that function as antioxidants. Phytochemicals help to eliminate carcinogens and reduce inflammation. In order to maximize the antioxidants present in vegetables, it is advisable to eat them raw, in a state that is closest to when you get them from the farm. Juicing is also highly recommended if you are looking to absorb all nutrients present in the vegetables.
Some fresh berries like blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries are some of the best antioxidant fruits one can consume since they possess powerful phytochemicals that inhibit DNA binding of some carcinogens. In addition, berries are also good sources of antioxidants like carotenes and vitamin C as well as minerals like magnesium, zinc, and calcium.
Walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are great antioxidant foods which can boost one’s heart health and general wellbeing. It is advisable that you consume nuts that are raw and organic rather than pasteurized or irradiated.
Spices and Herbs
Besides being a rich source of antioxidants, spices and herbs are known to have numerous anti-cancer benefits. Spices and herbs often differ by source since spices come from seeds, stem, and bark while herbs are obtained from plant leaves.
The different types of antioxidants should be your greatest allies if you are trying to maintain optimal body health. They help fight any reactive oxygen species as well as harmful free radicals, and aid in preventing the body from oxidative stress overload.