Food, in addition to the function of creating plastic and energy, also has the ability to protect the structure against the formation of free radicals.
This process, which constitutes cellular oxidation due to the presence of these radicals, is involved both in general physiological aging and in a wide range of diseases (cardiovascular, degenerative, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, as well as other types of cancer).
Antioxidants in foods can help prevent some of these processes, but they can also reduce or delay some of these diseases. When antioxidants can’t prevent free radicals, fats, proteins, and genes are damaged.
This is why antioxidants must prevent oxidative reactions in cells, which produce damaging free radicals; which plays an important role in the prevention and reduction of cardiovascular diseases, tumors and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as in strengthening the immune system.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that prevent oxidation or cell damage caused by harmful substances called free radicals. They are unstable and reactive atoms that steal electrons from other atoms to gain stability and lead to cell destruction. These chemical compounds interact and neutralize each other.
Antioxidants can be found in the body as antioxidant enzymes or can enter the body exogenously through antioxidant-rich foods.
Bad habits form free radicals that damage the body, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, stress, unbalanced diet, pollution and others; but there are foods that combat these evils, as well as supplements, which can be purchased at any departmental pharmacy.
What types of Antioxidants exist in food?
Antioxidant enzymes depend on various minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, copper and selenium. Therefore, to maintain the balance of endogenous antioxidants, it is necessary to maintain a balanced diet. On the other hand, the exogenous antioxidants found in food are mainly vitamins A, E and C and phenolic compounds such as tannins, polyphenols and flavonoids, which are easily found in fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin A (carotenoids): Carotenoids are precursors of vitamin A, which helps maintain eye health, is involved in cell growth, is important during communication between cells and is essential for its antioxidant functions.
Tocopherol (Vitamin E): It has an important role as an antioxidant substance with various defense functions against the presence of free radicals in the body’s tissues. It has been shown that its deficiency increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s, cataracts, epilepsy, diabetes, Parkinson’s, among other pathologies associated with oxidative stress.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C): Vitamin C protects cells, macromolecules and tissues from free radical attack.
Tannins: They provide the astringent flavor of each of the previously mentioned products and are also characterized by giving the brown hue to the foods in which they are present.
Polyphenols: In addition to its antioxidant benefits, it has an antibiotic, cytotoxic and antiparasitic role.
Flavonoids: Like tannins and polyphenols, flavonoids are antioxidant substances considered phytonutrients.
How do Antioxidants work?
Your contribution is essential to maintain health in a state of fullness. Their role in reducing oxidative stress, a problem that worsens with age, is what makes them so essential.
Eating vegetables or fruits to absorb these compounds is key to quality aging.
Eating a diet high in antioxidants will help us prevent and improve:
- Premature aging, produced by the accumulation of free radicals.
- Nervous system, as it has been shown to help prevent dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, thanks to a protective effect on neurons.
- Cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction.
- Cancer, as antioxidants can inactivate carcinogenesis, inhibit cell proliferation, enhance DNA repair processes, and reduce oxidative stress.
- Complements and improves the immune system against external bacteria.
Why take Antioxidants?
The effects of antioxidants can significantly influence oxidative damage associated with the aging process. Research shows that free radicals have a significant effect on aging and that damage from these unstable molecules can be controlled with adequate antioxidant protection, providing an optimal supply of antioxidant nutrients, helping to improve quality of life, reducing risk of related diseases.
Oxidative stress generally increases with aging. One way to mitigate this unavoidable process could be the use of substances specifically designed to counteract its effects.
What are the Benefits of consuming Antioxidants?
Intake of antioxidants can reduce these risks as they act as radical scavenging agents, hydrogen donors, electron donors, peroxide decomposers, molecular oxygen inhibitors, and inhibitors of enzyme processing, synergists, and metal waste.
- They help prevent overweight and have strong anti-inflammatory properties: especially the flavonoids found in red fruits, onions, black tea or red wine.
- They help recovery after exercise and prevent injuries: such as foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli or those that contain vitamin E, such as seeds, berries, nuts and vegetable oils.
- They improve the quality of life.
- They stimulate the production of collagen, a protein that the skin needs to maintain firmness and elasticity.
- They prevent certain skin problems, such as acne.
- Reduces skin imperfections.
- Sequesters free radicals, inhibits oxidation and cell damage.
- They have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antithrombotic, antiallergic, antitumor and anticancer properties.
- They reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, commonly known as “bad cholesterol”, preventing the accumulation of fat in the arteries; and increased HDL, known as “good cholesterol.”
Foods and Alternatives where to find Antioxidants?
These are the foods that you should consume, according to their type, to have a balanced diet of antioxidants and to be able to prevent damage to your body:
In vitamin A, it is found in significant quantities in many vegetables for daily consumption, generally in the form of beta-carotene, as is the case with carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, melon, etc. We can also extract it from eggs, dairy products and fish and animal livers.
Vitamins C and E are directly related, since the former acts by regenerating the oxidized radicals of the latter. In vitamin C, the foods with a greater richness in this vitamin are fruits (citrus fruits, persimmons, kiwis) and vegetables (peppers, parsley, cabbage, onion) fresh and raw. While in vitamin E, nuts and seeds, sunflower, other vegetable oils and green leafy vegetables.
The best-known carotenoid is beta-carotene, which is converted in the intestine into two molecules of vitamin A. This ability to convert into vitamin A is exclusive to some carotenoids and is not directly related to its antioxidant potential, it is good for visual health , in addition to being key in cancer prevention. They are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, peas, spinach, and mangoes.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, like other antioxidant carotenoids, are found in plant foods, but especially in dark green leafy vegetables, algae, peas, leeks, blueberries, broccoli, egg yolks, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, Cabbage, corn, tomatoes, bananas, parsley, celery, squash blossoms, corn and oranges are some of the richest food sources of this antioxidant.
Lycopene is the carotenoid that imparts the red color to tomatoes and watermelons and that is not converted into vitamin A in the human body, which does not prevent it from having very high antioxidant properties; It must be accompanied with a healthy fat to be absorbed effectively, such as olive oil, lycopene helps prevent:
- Chronic diseases.
- Suffer from different types of cancers (prostate, lung, breast).
- Cardiovascular diseases.
The polyphenols that green tea contains in high doses, which together with other chemical substances increase the levels of fat oxidation and also reduce the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases; they are responsible for the red, blue, and purple hues of many fruits, vegetables, and red wine. Polyphenols have properties:
- Anti-inflammatory, since they inhibit enzymes and C-reactive protein involved in inflammation processes.
- Estrogenic activity, such as isoflavones, lignans, and resveratrol.
- Fixation of metals and proteins, such as tannins, which gives them antimicrobial activity.
Selenium is a mineral that is present in almost all metabolic cycles, and I usually recommend it as a complement to other antioxidants or nutrients. We can find them in rice, corn, wheat and other whole grains, as well as nuts, eggs, cheese and legumes.
If we are going to use antioxidants to prevent cell damage, the ideal would be a combination of water-soluble and fat-soluble fractions. For example, it’s basically vitamin C and vitamin E. Also, if you combine some antioxidants it will be very effective, for example, ferulic acid combined with vitamin C will be much more effective, it increases anti-inflammatory activity and protection against sun damage.
They can also be used topically by combining different types of antioxidants in cosmetics, such as resveratrol, green tea and vitamins C, which will increase their sun protection effect. Another combination indicated for skin protection is astaxanthin, which, in combination with vitamin E, is particularly active against reactive oxygen species, one of the most harmful.
If we use oil or cream that contains vitamin E or alpha tocopherol, it will not only act as an antioxidant on the skin but also as a cosmetic preservative. It is ideal to combine oral and topical antioxidants, which is the best way to ensure that we protect the body.
NOTE: If you suffer from oxidative stress, it is advisable to go to a health specialist to be able to take a specific treatment, since each condition is different in each type of person.