Antioxidants are elements that help to prevent unstable molecules, known as free radicals, from damaging our cells, which causes cell oxidation
The growing interest in the free radicals and the reactive oxygen species (ROS) is surrounded by a whole medical revolution that promises a new age in terms of health and how we deal with diseases.
Effects of Oxygen
Most of the potentially harmful effects of oxygen are due to the formation and activity of a series of chemical compounds which are known as ROS. They have a tendency to donate oxygen to other substances. The free radicals and antioxidants have become the main discussion topic involving the mechanism of diseases.
It is ironic how oxygen, which is indispensable for life, can have deleterious effect on the human body under certain circumstances
Controversy about Oxygen
Human beings need oxygen to live, but the mere act of breathing it produces highly reactive molecules such as the free radicals. They cause oxidative damage as they interact with other molecules from the body, which can result in the onset of a wide range of diseases.
The effects of the oxidation can be easily observed when we cut an apple, for example. We can see how its aspect will deteriorate in a few minutes
What is the Oxidative Stress?
This term has been used to describe the damage produced by the Free Radicals, which happens when there is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the antioxidant defenses. This negative effect is associated with the damage to a wide range of molecular structures, including lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.
Oxidative Stress in the Short-Term
It can happens in those tissues that have been damaged due to a trauma, infection, hyperoxia, toxins and excessive physical exercise. These injured tissues produce more enzymes that produce radicals (xanthine, oxidase, lipoxygenase, cyclooxygenase…), the activation of phagocytes, the release of free iron, copper ions, or the interruption of oxidative phosphorylation electron transport chains, which will produce too much ROS. The side effects of radiotherapy and chemotherapy are related to an imbalance between the ROS and the antioxidant defense system.
What are the Best Antioxidants? Here you have a Top 10 list.
External Factors for Oxidative Stress
The free radicals are produced within our body in a natural way, a most of them are handled by our organism and detoxified. However, there are some external factors that can trigger the production of harmful free radicals:
- Exposure to UV rays
- Eating “unhealthy” foods
- Some medicines or treatments
Physical exercise, specially at high levels, can cause a lot of damage to the organism if it is not controlled with a proper diet
Which Diseases produce Free Radicals?
It is believed that the oxidative damage significantly contributes to all the inflammatory diseases (arthritis, vasculitis, glomerulonephritis, erythematosus lupus, adult respiratory syndromes…), ischemic diseases (heart diseases, strokes, intestinal ischemia…), hemochromatosis (accumulation of an excess of iron), gastric ulcers, hypertension, and pre-eclampsia, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscle dystrophia), alcoholism or diseases related to smoking, among others. ROS are involved in the onset and complications of diabetes mellitus and age related ocular diseases.
An excess of oxidative stress can lead to the oxidation of lipids and proteins, which is associated with changes in their structure and functions
Free Radicals and Aging
The human body is constantly fighting against aging. The effect of the free radicals on the cells leads to pathological changes related to aging. A growing number of diseases or disorders, as well as the aging process itself, show a direct or indirect relation with these reactive and potentially destructive molecules.
The main effects of aging and cell damage produced by the ROS affects mainly the DNA
How do the Antioxidants work against Oxidative Stress and Free Radicals?
An antioxidant is a stable molecule that is capable of donating electrons to others, such as the Free Radicals, to neutralize them (stabilize them), reducing their negative and harmful effect on our health. Some of these antioxidants, including glutathione, ubiquinol and uric acid are produce by the metabolism.
Other lighter antioxidants are present in our diet. Even though the body has several enzymatic systems to neutralize the free radicals, the main antioxidant micronutrients are vitamin E (α-tocopherol), vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and Beta-Carotene. The body cannot synthesize them on its own, which is why they must be supplied through the diet.
The antioxidants can interact with the free radicals and stop the chain reaction before they damage vital molecules
The Antioxidant Defense System
Antioxidants have a remarkable capacity to repair damaged molecules by donating hydrogen atoms. Some antioxidants even have a chelating effect on the production of free radicals which is catalyzed by heavy metals. Under these circumstances, the antioxidant contains such strong molecules from heavy metals that the chemical reaction that is necessary to create a free radical never happens.
When the chelating antioxidant is water-soluble, it also produces the excretion of heavy metals through the urine. Flavonoid antioxidants bind to their DNA, creating a protective barrier against the attack of the free radicals, while other antioxidants have the ability to trigger the self-destruction of some cancer cells, a process called apoptosis.
Why Should we Take Antioxidants?
The effect of antioxidant can significantly buffer the negative consequences of oxidative damage associated with aging. Research suggests that the free radicals are significantly involved in the aging process, and that the damage of these unstable molecules can be controlled with a proper antioxidant defense. Eating antioxidants nutrients will contribute to improving the quality of life, reducing the risk of suffering related diseases.
Oxidative stress increases as we grow old. Using substances that are specially designed to counter its effects is a way to reduce this inevitable process
How can we Reduce the Effect of the Free Radicals?
The organism produces its own antioxidants like the superoxide dismutase, catalase, and a wide range of peroxidase enzymes in order to protect itself against the free radicals. The antioxidants neutralize the free radicals so that they become harmless to other cells. In spite of this, the power of said antioxidants may not be enough to neutralize the ROS.
That is why we should provide an external source of antioxidants through the daily diet in order to reduce oxidative stress and the related damage
Eating Habits to Improve the Antioxidant Power
It is necessary to follow a diet that is rich in vegetable products. Some components with an antioxidant effect that are present in fruit or vegetables are:
- Beta-carotene: precursor of vitamin A. Vegetables like spinach, cabbage, asparagus or Brussels sprouts have beta-carotene and vitamin C. Carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins also have high quantities of beta-carotene and vitamin C.
- Vitamin A: it is essential for the growth of the skin, hair and mucous membranes. It also helps with the sight and the growth of bones and teeth. Carrots, skimmed milk, pumpkins, eggs, spinach and sweet potatoes have a high vitamin A content.
- Vitamin C: also called ascorbic acid, is an important element for the structure of the bones, muscles and blood vessels. Citrus fruits such as blueberries, oranges and pineapples are rich in vitamin C. Other fruits that contain a lot of vitamin C are melon, mango and guava.
- Vitamin E: it protects the cell membranes against the oxidation by protecting their fatty acids. Walnuts and some oils like safflower oil, vegetables, corn and soy also have vitamin E.
- Quercetin: it is a very famous antioxidants due to its ability to prevent malignant tumors. But also, this popular flavonoid works well when it comes to stopping the effect of allergies, which is why it could be included in antihistamine medicines that are prescribed by doctors and sold at pharmacies.
- Alpha Lipoic Acid: this antioxidant is in charge of helping the complex B vitamins to transform proteins and carbs into energy. Moreover, its main feature is that it works both in water and fat, which is quite unusual among this type of molecules.
- Licopene: licopene is a vegetable pigment in charge of giving some fruits and vegetables their characteristic red color. It belongs to the beta-carotene family or provitamin A and it cannot be synthesized by the human organism. Moreover, its effects are especially beneficial in order to prevent prostate cancer and to reduce the LDL cholesterol levels.
- Curcumin or Turmeric: this plant is used to make curry and it has interesting antioxidant effects to prevent diseases such as colitis, arthritis and hepatitis. Moreover, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and it is in charge of reduce bone pain quite effectively.
- Astaxathin: it is the most powerful carotenoid that exists. Moreover, it tend to be compared to vitamin E due to its structure, and it is quite useful when it comes to fighting against the oxidative stress that is responsible for the aging of the skin and the deterioration of the ocular health. Normally, it tends to be found in certain microalgae.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine: this antioxidant is a quite stable form of L-Cysteine, a non-essential amino acid that contains sulfur and which is directly involved in the formation of protein structures. In addition, it also blocks and eliminates heavy metals like plumb and mercury from the organism, and its consumption is quite advisable when it comes to eliminating fats.
- Glutathione: this is probably the most important one. In fact, is popularly known as ‘the mother of all antioxidants’ since it is the most effective when it comes to combating the effect of the free radicals. Moreover, it also helps to prevent diseases that go from skin cancer, senile dementia, Alzheimer, and those related to the cardiovascular system.
- Catalase: it is a crucial enzyme for the health of all living creatures on the Earth, since its main function is the conversion of the hydrogen peroxide. That is why its properties are focused on reinforcing the immune system to avoid the harmful agents that can deteriorate the organism and trigger diseases.
- Ubiquinol: it is also known as coenzyme Q10 and it is currently one of the most used due to the fact that it stimulates the production of energy by the cells and it increases their longevity. Therefore, we could say that it is an excellent remedy to combat the premature aging of the skin and the internal organs. However, we have to emphasize that, in spite of its excellent properties, its use is not advised for those who wake statins.
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