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What are Antioxidants for?

by Natalia Urdiales November 17, 2020

Antioxidants and Health

By: Enrique Manzanero

black and red berries in green ceramic bowl

Did you know that currently studies in health and non-communicable chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and other diseases, have been associated with a decreased consumption and levels of antioxidants in the body? On the contrary, have you thought that consuming a  diet that is varied and abundant in antioxidants can allow you to have a better health, less probability of developing diseases, as well as having a healthy aging and longevity? And finally, were you considering the fact that most of the antioxidants that come from the diet are found in foods of plant origin?

Antioxidants are defined as those substances that prevent oxidation or cell damage. These help to keep the cells of the body stable and protect them by inactivating free radicals that can cause damage to their functioning. I'll tell you how they work.

A free radical is an unstable and incomplete molecule in the body that seeks to stabilize itself. We can compare them to a nail that punctures the tire of a car; it causes the car to spiral out of control and crash into the car in front, which in turn collides with the one from which it proceeds and continues to form a chain of crashed cars. In the body, what remains after free radicals have worked is a series of damaged cells, a chain effect.

Normally the body produces free radicals for certain essential functions. However, there are several factors by which an excessive amount of these begins to be produced, which causes the cells to begin to stress. This stress is called oxidative stress, where the cells have a rather alarming damage, which, if maintained, will cause inflammation in all cells, then in the organs and tissues, finally, in the entire body itself.

The above is one of the explanations, reasons or causes by which diseases and premature aging appear in the body. However, the body so punctual and well designed, has a solution to the previous panorama.

There are two sources or ways, where the body, being damaged by free radicals and establishing cellular stress, as well as inflammation, can obtain antioxidants to be able to protect all cells and prevent their damage. In the first instance, the body can manufacture certain molecules that function as antioxidants, this first defense always works for the cells to protect themselves, however, there is a crucial point for the body where they are compromised and are no longer sufficient due to sustained cellular damage. which is very common in a sick and aging body. It is here where the second source stands out and is present where the body can also obtain and reach the antioxidants it needs. These antioxidants are called dietary antioxidants and are those that are derived from food or from the diet we eat.

Currently, a variety of antioxidants derived from food are recognized, where they practically come exclusively from plant foods. That is why following a diet with abundant consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, as well as vegetable oils and legumes, can have a significant impact on health due to the huge amount of bioactive compounds that these foods contain and that by consuming them they can protect and modulate every cell and process within the body.

Next, I share a list of some compounds that have the function of antioxidants in the body, as well as the foods in which they are found, I hope this makes you aware that each food we consume can protect and help the body to be healthy and counteract the cellular damage to which the body is subjected daily.

 

 

Ascorbic acid


It's an antioxidant compound that we also know as vitamin C. This can act on blood cells to protect them from oxidation or damage, it can also strengthen the immune system. This vitamin participates in the production of collagen allowing the formation of proteins for the skin, tendons, bones and teeth. The human body cannot produce or store this compound, therefore it must be consumed daily. It is found in a wide variety of foods such as red, orange, and yellow bell peppers; guavas, kiwi, strawberries, citrus, chili peppers, broccoli and other fruits and vegetables.

 

 

Alpha tocopherol

brown nuts

Also known as vitamin E, it is a fatty compound that protects and integrates into cell membranes, it has also been seen to participate in skin health, as well as an effect on the immune system. This antioxidant can deactivate free radicals and counteract damage in the body. Foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, vegetable oils, spinach, hazelnuts, avocado, wheat germ, and a wide variety of green vegetables contain this compound.

 

 

Polyphenols

clear glass cup with tea near brown ceramic teapot

They are chemical and bioactive compounds in certain foods that have an activity in neutralizing free radicals and reducing inflammation at the cellular level. Great benefits have been seen in the body, such as cardiovascular health and the prevention of aging processes, as well as cancer. It is a very varied and broad group so it is found in foods such as green tea, black tea, cocoa, red grapes, red wine, peanuts, citrus fruits, apple and coffee, however, it is certain that there are endless plant foods that contain them.

 

 

Chlorophylls

green-leafed plant

They are green colored compounds, very characteristic of plants and algae. Through this compound, plants can photosynthesize and obtain energy. Currently, this group of compounds and their impact on health have been studied, which includes functions such as detoxification, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Due to its composition, it is considered the hemoglobin of plants and algae, so consuming it can help in the health of the blood cells of the human body. It is found in all green leafy vegetables, as well as in marine algae such as spirulina and chlorella, being foods with a wide nutritional profile.

 

 

Flavonoids

 person holding orange fruits

They are plant compounds widely studied on their action in limiting free radicals in the body, for which they have been evaluated in certain conditions such as cancer, arthritis, menopause, obesity and diabetes. Their functions in the cardiovascular system, in liver function, have also been analyzed, where they have been used as bioactive antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds; that's why consuming flavonoids is an impressive way to provide antioxidants to the body. These are found in fruits such as grapefruit, tangerines, sweet orange, goji berries, spirulina and chlorella algae, soybeans, beans, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and certain green leafy vegetables.

 

 

Carotenoids

bunch of carrots

Due to this natural compound there are orange, reddish and yellow fruits and vegetables. Among the functions are the health of the skin, good vision, and the prevention of cancer, as well as the health of the prostate in men and the health of the breasts in women, the above is due to its antioxidant power that neutralizes free radicals and reduce stress on body cells, beta-carotene being a type of carotenoid precursor of vitamin A. Foods that contain it are cooked tomato, watermelon, pomegranate, strawberries, peppers, carrots, green leafy vegetables such as kale, mangoes, pumpkin, pumpkin blossoms and other edible flowers, as well as purple cabbage, turmeric, sweet potato and many other plant foods.


In Conclusion

In conclusion, a varied diet with an abundance of plant foods can allow the body to consume adequate antioxidants. It is important to raise awareness of the fact that food does not only provide us with nutrients or calories, antioxidants being bioactive compounds in food that the body cannot produce, giving rise to the need to consume them daily to protect our cells and promote health. This way the quality of life is improved and a healthy aging is considered. If you do, each of your cells will thank you.




References 

Burton G. and Jauniaux E. (2011). Oxidative stress. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 287-299. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2010.10.016

Coronado M., Salvador R., Vázquez M. and Radilla C. (2015). Antioxidants: present perspective for the human health. Revista Chilena de Nutrición. (4). http:

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Eggersdorfer M. and Wyss A. (2018). Carotenoids in human nutrition and health. Biochemistry and Biophisics. (652). 18-26. doi: 10.1016/j.abb.2018.06.001.

Helmut Sies. (2015). Oxidative stress: a concept in redox biology and medicine. Redox Biology. (4)180-183. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2015.01.002

Hsiung M., Lai C., and Tang C. (2010). Anti-inflammatory activity of natural dietary flavonoids. Food and Function, 1(1). 15-31. doi:10.1039/c0fo00103a

Jaramillo F. and Valdivia A. (2016). Fundamentos del Estrés Oxidativo Celular. Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes. 

Kuang C. (2000). Vitamin E and oxidative stress. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 11(2). 215-232. https://doi.org/10.1016/0891-5849(91)90174-2

Nagini S., Palitti F. and Natarajan A. (2014). Chemopreventive Potential of Chlorophyllin: A Review of the Mechanisms of Action and Molecular Targets. Journal Nutrition and Cancer, 67(2). 203-211. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635581.2015.990573

Sorice A., Guerriero E.Capone F., Colonna G., Castello G. and Costantini S. (2014). Ascorbic acid: its role in immune system and chronic inflammation diseases. Medicinal Chemistry, 14(5). doi: 10.2174/1389557514666140428112602 ·

Sies H., Berndt C. and Jone D. (2017). Oxidative Stress. Annual Review of Biochemistry. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-biochem-061516-045037

Yahfoufi N., Alsadi N., Jambi M. and Matar C. (2018). The Immunomodulatory and Anti-Inflammatory Role of Polyphenols. Nutrients, 10(11). https://doi.org/10.3390

/nu10111618

Yao L., Jiang Y., Shi J., BarberánT., Datta N., Singanusong R. and Chen S. (2014). Flavonoids in Food and Their Health Benefits. Plant Foods Human Nutrition. (59), 113–122. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11130-004-0049-7

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Vargas G. (2015). Primero tú. Aguilar. 




Natalia Urdiales
Natalia Urdiales

Author



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