Whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not, your body is always at war, even if you don’t feel it. At any given time and in a variety of places, there is a skirmish going on here, a battle there. Above all else, sometimes agents within your body are engaged in full-blown war – such as “good” bacteria vs. “bad” bacteria, or, for the sake of this conversation, antioxidants vs. free radicals.
Have you got your defenses up?
In this particular conflagration, antioxidants are the good guys, and free radicals are the bad dudes, looking to wreak all sorts of havoc with your health on a 24/7 basis. Basically, antioxidants are on defense, working to prevent or at least slow down the damage caused by free radicals (those little guys are on offense), which are unstable molecules produced by the body in response to environmental and other stressors.
Two Types of Antioxidants
To be sure, there are plant-based antioxidants – the most abundant type – and then there are antioxidants that aren’t plant-based. But that’s not what we mean by two types of antioxidants in this instance. There are endogenous antioxidants, which are manufactured by your body, and then there are exogenous antioxidants, which emanate from outside the body.
Together, the endogenous and exogenous defenders go after these free, unstable radicals that are comprised of waste substances produced by cells as the body 1. processes food and 2. reacts to the environment, per medicalnewstoday.com. If the body is unable to keep up with this process and remove free radicals in an efficient manner, you end up with oxidative stress, which can harm cells and affect body function.
Free Radicals and Oxidative Stress
Your body doesn’t only produce free radicals on its own – by the way, it even does it while you are exercising and expending energy – it also is exposed to it on a daily basis from environmental sources in such forms as sunlight, pollutants and cigarette smoke, among other “providers.”
Sunlight usually is your friend, to include when you need to replenish your vitamin D, but its ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause all sorts of problems, just as UV rays coming from a tanning bed can be an issue. Some substances found in processed foods also act as free radicals that pose a health threat.
Free radicals can then trigger oxidative stress, which can lead to cell damage, and, per National Institutes of Health (NIH), also have a part in the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, dementia (i.e. Alzheimer’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, eye cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. Moreover, as pointed out at familydoctor.org, it is believed that free radicals can contribute to (and speed up) the aging process.
So, let’s hear it for antioxidants!
Sources of Health-Benefitting Antioxidants
Some cells that are attacked by free radicals can recover and repair themselves on their own, but most can use your help. It all depends on what you put in your mouth, to a large extent. The best and richest sources of antioxidants are a wide variety of foods, most of them plant-based – although some nutritional supplements can also chip in to help to some extent.
What your body does with those antioxidants is counter the effect of free radicals by “balancing” them, which helps stop the damage from spreading to other cells. Not only can antioxidants protect and even reverse some of that damage; they can also bolster your immunity. That’s nice to know in a world where viruses and infections are always on the prowl looking to mount a frontal assault on you at every opportunity.
Let’s cut to the chase: a healthy diet can provide a healthy dosage of health-protecting antioxidants. Following, per familydoctor.org, are some common antioxidants, and the foods in which they can be found:
- Vitamin A. Found in liver as well as in many dairy products, such as milk and butter.
- Vitamin C. Most fruits and veggies have plenty of C, to include ranges, papayas, and cantaloupes among the former, and broccoli, kale, and tomatoes among the latter.
- Vitamin E. Found in some nuts and seeds, such as almonds and sunflower seeds, and in green, leafy veggies like spinach and kale.
- Selenium. A nice variety here, to include pasta, bread, and grains, as well as animal products such as beef, chicken, turkey, and fish, as well as in nuts, legumes, eggs, and cheese.
- Lutein. Found in green, leafy veggies and corn and oranges, among other edibles.
- Lycopene. Look for fruits and vegetables that are pink or red, such as watermelon and apricots.
- Beta-carotene. Fruits and vegetables that are bright in color, like peaches, mangoes, carrots, squash and sweet potatoes.