We’re constantly hearing about antioxidants and our health, and we know they’re in our blueberries, right? But what exactly are they and what are the benefits?
Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that protect our bodies from damage done by free radicals, which are molecules that attack our bodies’ healthy cells, and can weaken our immune systems. Some research shows free radicals can contribute to development of cancer, cardiovascular disease, brain dysfunction, cataracts, and more. Therefore, antioxidants may help maintain ideal health and well-being.1
Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, lutein, catechins, and more, can all be found in certain foods, as well as dietary supplements. However, it is important to check with your doctor before taking a supplement, because they can sometimes interact with other medications.2
More recently, antioxidants have come under increased scrutiny because eating too many in the form of supplements may actually be harmful.3 One study showed an association between taking beta-carotene supplements and lung cancer in smokers.4
While excessive intake of vitamins and minerals may be harmful, antioxidants may provide several benefits, which you can find below.
Studies reveal the consumption of vitamins C and E supplements can lead to better cognitive function and a reduced risk of dementia. Vitamin C can also be found in several foods, including papaya, all citrus fruits, broccoli, parsley, and Brussels sprouts. Vitamin E can be found in foods like lettuce, sunflower seeds, avocados, peanut butter and turnip greens.5
Oxidative stress is a disruption in balancing the production of free radicals and antioxidant defenses and can play a role in the development of diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Luckily, antioxidants help us to maintain the balance and stop the oxidation process.6
The more we are exposed to free radicals, the more antioxidants we need. Cigarette smoke, pollution, drugs, illness, high stress, and sometimes, intense exercise can increase exposure. Antioxidants control free radical formation in the body naturally.7
Lab evidence demonstrates that certain antioxidants may slow or even prevent cancer development. Free radicals can cause damage to our DNA and other molecules, and eventually, the cell damage may eventually to cancer. However, antioxidants fight to clear out antioxidants, or in scientific terms, they neutralize the electric charge of the free radicals.8
One study found the combination of certain antioxidants, including vitamins C and E and beta-carotene helped to protect against severe and age-related eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. Beta-carotene can be found in foods like sweet potato’s, carrots, turnip greens, collards, and butternut squash.9 Plus, another antioxidant called lutein, which you can find in spinach and kale, may help to protect vision.10
In one study of more than 1,600 adults in New York State, lung function improved once blood levels of antioxidants increased. The antioxidants to make the strongest impact were beta-cryptoxanthin and vitamin E, which can be found in foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, cooked spinach, and dried apricots.11
Antioxidants may improve hair growth by helping maintain the collagen, or the hair follicles’ connective tissue. It also protects the cells in the blood vessels of the scalp to create healthy hair growth. Vitamin C can be taken as a supplement or consumed in citrus fruits and other foods.
Research suggests the flavonoids in green tea and in some dark chocolate can help protect the skin from inflammation and cancer. One study found women who were treated with green tea extract were more protected against negative sunlight exposure, as opposed to those we were not. However, the perfect dose of flavonoids has not yet been determined.12
To naturally consume antioxidants, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, plus nuts, beans, and legumes. Foods especially high in antioxidants are often vibrant in color, and include berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries), pears, plums, apples, artichokes, red cabbage, red leaf lettuce, sweet and russet potatoes, nuts (walnuts, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds), nutrient-rich juices like pomegranate juice, and yes — dark chocolate – in moderation of course.