The Importance Of Antioxidants In Cell Function
When functioning correctly, that is.
Nowhere is this more true than in our cellular health. It’s governed by a complex series of interactions which are largely automatic when functioning optimally. However, the environmental stress of our day to day lives can impact it more substantially than we can ever imagine.
The role of antioxidants in cell function are just one factor affecting our overall health. But it just happens to be one of the most significant ones.
Antioxidants, Free Radicals and Cellular Health
Cellular function is the very basis of our overall physical health. It governs daily bodily functions and metabolic processes, including the ability to repair our body’s weakened immunity, the production of new tissue as well as our general susceptibility to disease.
While there’s numerous factors which can affect the latter, ranging from lifestyle habits to heredity, it’s the presence of free radicals in the body which can present one of the more harmful influences on physical health.
Free radicals are molecular compounds in the body which have the potential to affect our immunity. They’re produced naturally as a result of everyday metabolism. And when free radicals are in balance, our cells regulate any threat they may cause to our overall health.
Their lifespan may be short—lasting seconds at most. But free radicals are highly unstable compounds, reacting acutely to the presence of toxins and pathogens. And in that time, they can wreak absolute havoc on our cells, our immune system and even our DNA.
The role of antioxidants in cellular healthCellular function may regulate our health and our metabolism. But in the process, they also produce what are known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Some ROS are actually beneficial for your health. But an imbalance leads to oxidative stress and the production of free radicals.
Antioxidants fight oxidative stress preemptively. And while they’re common in both food and health supplements, our bodies can also produce them naturally. In fact, the body’s own natural antioxidant enzymes are one of the most crucial components in maintaining cellular health.
But they frequently need additional boosters in order to operate more effectively—particularly when oxidative stress levels are at their highest. Plants, herbs, grains and fruit all produce a compound known as phytochemicals which combat and neutralize the production of free radicals and other forms of oxidative stress, with foods and supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene being just a few of the most well known antioxidants among hundreds (if not thousands!)
How do antioxidants neutralize free radicals?As we mentioned earlier, free radicals are molecular compounds. And they're noted by an imbalance of electrons. But because they need a complementary electron to bind to, they’re constantly looking for them in other molecules to ensure their very survival—and in the process, committing structural damage and depletion of those same molecules.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by sacrificing some of their own abundant electrons in order to placate free radicals before any lasting damage is done. That’s because the damage that’s committed by free radicals frequently has a cumulative effect on other molecules in the body, setting off a chain reaction which can result in chronic diseases, including asthma, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory joint disease and senile dementia.
One key area that is often overlooked is the fact that free radicals aren’t necessarily harmful. Oxidative stress actually assists in the production of antioxidants during physical exercise, for example, which can help regulate tissue growth while also increasing resistance to certain chronic illnesses. Free radicals can also assist in oxidation processes which are beneficial in combating viruses, bacterial infection and damaged body cells.
It’s not a question of the prevalence of free radicals in the body. They’re an inescapable part of biology; one which can be produced naturally by the body just as much as they can be brought about by exposure to toxins (including cigarette smoke and pollution.) It’s a question of an imbalance.
And it’s also a question of optimizing your body’s supply of antioxidants.
What are the Best Food Sources for Antioxidants?
There’s a very good reason why many nutritionists suggest that food and diet are the most optimal method of ensuring your body receives an adequate supply of antioxidants. That’s because natural food sources are one of the most accessible and abundant resources for the necessary nutrients to maintain cellular health.
Yet natural foods aren’t the only sources for antioxidants. Many manufacturers have long fortified processed foods with vitamins and minerals in order to combat oxidative stress. Despite this, many processed foods also contain additional preservatives including fats, sodium and sugars. And these preservatives can complicate existing health conditions while also rendering any nutritional value largely useless.
So what are the best food sources to ensure an adequate intake of antioxidants?
In addition to being high in fiber and vitamin C, berries are rich in polyphenols—a potent antioxidant noted for its role in combating ROS and related oxidative stress. Blueberries in particular are an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese. However, açai berries can contain up to 10 times more antioxidants than blueberries, while goji berries have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and have been noted for both their metabolizing properties in obesity treatment as well as their role in maintaining proper eye health.
While green tea is frequently associated with longevity, heart health and mental clarity in traditional Chinese medicine, it looks like Western medicine is finally waking up to its benefits. Rich in a particular class of antioxidants known as catechins, green tea is particularly high in a component known as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which research has indicated may have the potential to decrease the risk of cancer, bone degeneration and heart-related diseases.
Long known for being abundant in vitamin C, oranges and other citrus fruits help combat free radicals and oxidative stress through a unique mechanism in hesperetin (their active flavonoid) which helps metabolize and restore vitamin C to its active form. In addition, vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges have also been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells in immunity response.
Dark chocolate and cocoa
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Just 100 grams of dark chocolate may be power packed with nutrients including manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. But did you know that they’re also rich in antioxidants including polyphenols, catechins and flavonols which may play a role in mitigating cardiovascular disease? In addition, some studies have also shown that both cocoa and dark chocolate may even contain a substantially higher amount of vital antioxidants than berries, including total polyphenol and flavanol content.
Should I Take Antioxidant Supplements?
Food sources alone may not be enough to provide you with an adequate supply of antioxidants, and some consumers may find it more convenient to take antioxidant supplements to complement your intake.
While many of the essential vitamin and mineral supplements are perfectly healthy to consume alongside dietary changes, we do recommend you speak to a physician first prior to starting a dietary and health supplement regimen. Though somewhat rare, antioxidant toxicity can occur as a result of a surplus in your body and specific health conditions may increase the potential for toxicity.
Antioxidants and natural supplementation
One area that more consumers are looking to increase their antioxidant intake through is all natural supplements derived from herbs and botanicals.
That’s primarily because compared to many mass produced supplements, herbal supplements have a greater degree of bioavailability—the amount and rate in which active nutrients can be absorbed and digested by our cells. But while botanicals and herbal supplements can be purer and more potent, they also frequently contain compounds designed to address specific health conditions in addition to their antioxidant properties.
For example, studies have recently shown that supplements containing a rice bran arabinoxylan compound may act as an immunomodulator which can support certain forms of conventional cancer therapies. Similarly, supplements which are rich in marine omega-3s such as krill oil can help maintain cardiovascular health, with some reports indicating it may be responsible for a 10.2 percent decrease in triglyceride levels.
Keep in mind, however, that natural supplements aren’t a cure all for oxidative stress. But when combined with your physician’s advice alongside a healthy diet and exercise regimen, you may find they can increase your immunity and your overall health.
ConclusionOur bodies may appear to be self regulating. But underneath those automatic responses are an incredibly complex series of interactions—particularly when it comes to cell function and health.
Yes, antioxidants can occur in our bodies naturally as a result of metabolism and digestion. But that doesn’t mean they always work effectively. Much like everything else in our lives, we frequently need a little boost in order for nutrients to be absorbed optimally.
That boost can sometimes mean a complete lifestyle change. And sometimes it can be as simple as a dietary change. The one risk you don’t need to take is the stress your body faces on a daily basis.
Both you and your cells deserve better.
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