Antioxidants – what is it, benefits and side effects!

Antioxidants are a collective name for different substances with the ability to destroy free radicals formed in the body from oxidation. It can be said that they act as the anti-corrosion treatment of the body.

The increased production of reactive acidic compounds such as free radicals is called oxidative stress and can cause the body’s antioxidant defense to be insufficient. In technical terms, this is called biological oxidation, the body “rusts” from the inside. Some examples of oxidation are when an apple turns brown, when nails weaken, or when we age with wrinkles.

What are antioxidants?

We are given by what we eat, some are vitamins, some minerals and often stand out as strong colors in foods, the blueberry is an example of a fruit that is considered to contain significant amounts of antioxidants .

They are mainly found in foods from the plant kingdom, such as fruits, fruits and vegetables. They are often called high-content foods “superfoods”. The common denominator is that they have a beneficial effect on our health through their ability to neutralize free radicals.

Categories of antioxidants:

Antioxidants  can be divided into different categories based on well-defined parameters. A first subdivision can be made based on where these substances are produced in relation to the human organism and distinguishing antioxidants :

Endogenous: are produced by the body itself. Some examples are ubiquinone and glutathione.

Exogenous: not produced by the body and must be taken in through food or supplements.

Based on its ability to dissolve in water or not, we distinguish:

Fat soluble: the hydrophobic, dissolves in lipids but not in water . These antioxidants , which include vitamin A and vitamin E , accumulate in lipids and therefore persist in the body and there is a risk of excess accumulation.

Soluble in water: they dissolve in water but not in lipids (they are called hydrophilic) and one of them is vitamin C. They do not accumulate in the body and therefore there is no risk of excess of these substances.

Finally we can make an additional distinction of antioxidant:

Natural: Found naturally in plants, fruits, vegetables, fish, oilseeds and some cereals.

Synthetic: they are chemically produced to reproduce natural or endogenous ones (such as coenzyme Q10, often used in cosmetics).

Types of antioxidants :

So far we have talked about the working mechanism  and how they are divided, but what are they in detail? The following list summarizes the main antioxidants that can be taken:

Polyphenols: are natural substances (phenolic compounds) that derive from the metabolism of plants and have a strong antioxidant activity. They are divided into three classes, simple phenols, to which they belong, for example, resveratrol (contained in the skin of grape acid and with probable antitumor action), flavonoids and tannins.

Flavonoids are a particular class of water -soluble polyphenols and are more commonly known as bioflavonoids. They have an antioxidant action in general, but act in particular on the walls of blood vessels, preventing them from being damaged by free radicals. Its main subdivision is into flavones, isoflavones, neoflavones, anthocyanins and catechins.

Tannins: also belong to the family of polyphenols, they are soluble in water and are particularly used as wine additives thanks to their astringent properties.

Coenzyme Q10: is an endogenous antioxidant part of enzymatic antioxidant (particularly cellular respiratory chain located in mitochondria) and is also known as ubiquinone. It is fat soluble and therefore very useful as an antioxidant for the skin .

Antioxidant nutrients :

Vitamin E: Vitamin E or tocopherol is an antioxidant that, among other things, protects the body’s cells by preventing the degradation of polyunsaturated fatty acids that accumulate in the membranes. Vitamin E is found primarily in vegetable seeds and oils, wheat germs, leafy green plants, avocados, whole grains and eggs.

Vitamin C: Vitamin C or ascorbic acid acts as an antioxidant and protects the fat-soluble vitamins and other fats in the body from oxidation. It is also effective in building cartilage and bone tissue in the body, as well as facilitating the absorption of iron from food. Vitamin C is found in most vegetables, fruits, and most of all, citrus fruits.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A or retinol are also included as antioxidants and are needed for eyes, mucous membranes and growth. Vitamin A is mainly found in liver, dairy products and eggs. The carotene found in fruits and vegetables is converted to vitamin A in the body if needed.

Selenium: Selenium helps cells protect themselves from free radicals, provides protection from heavy metals, and helps certain white blood cells in the body’s immune system. Selenium can be found naturally in seafood, rice , and nuts .

Zinc: Zinc is important for the functions of many enzymes, including transporting carbon dioxide from tissues to the lungs, in DNA and RNA synthesis, to the immune system and the skin . Zinc also interacts with the hormone insulin which regulates carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar in the body. Zinc can still be found naturally from meat, bran, straw and green peas.

Foods rich in antioxidants :

1. Cocoa:

Cocoa antioxidants  are linked to an impressive range of health benefits: from the ability to lower blood pressure to the ability to lower bad blood cholesterol levels.

2. Pecans:

One study showed that people who consumed 20% walnuts saw their blood levels of antioxidants increase. However, be careful! because even though they contain healthy fats, pecans, like dried fruits in general, contain a lot of calories.

3. Mirtilio:

Blueberries are a fabulous fruit: they are low in calories and full of nutrients and antioxidants. It is also beneficial for the circulatory system, heart and brain. In addition to neutralizing free radical activity, it also reduces inflammation .

4. Artichoke:

Several studies have confirmed that the antioxidant present in artichoke has a great anti-inflammatory power and can reduce the risk of some types of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. For those who don’t know, the best ways to cook artichokes is in steam.

5. Raspberry:

Raspberry is a beautiful fruit, full of nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C , manganese and a very significant amount of antioxidant. The analysis of five studies on this fruit confirmed that its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties delay the formation of some types of cancer .

Benefits of Antioxidants :

It has been amply demonstrated that a rich natural diet is particularly helpful in maintaining health. Almost all of our most important organs, heart and lungs, in the first place, benefit from the action to keep working at full speed.

Antioxidants  are particularly suitable for fighting skin aging and can be used in creams and other body products.

How to safely take antioxidants :

When it comes to , the best solution to take them is undoubtedly the most natural possible, that is, through nutrition. Also, eating at least 5 servings of antioxidant -rich fruits and vegetables every day, varying between them, is a healthy, risk-free habit. Go ahead for antioxidant-rich beauty products that, being for external use, do not pose any health risk.

A different discussion must be made for food supplements, which contain a higher amount of antioxidants (one tablet usually contains the equivalent contained in 2 kg of fruits and vegetables).

Supplements are only recommended for people who really need them, like sports people. Also, in general, they are not always recommended for children, whose need for antioxidants can be safely covered by food alone.

Antioxidant deficiency :

We must also remember that, in some cases, the production of free radicals increases in speed and intensity. In addition, smokers and people who are very stressed are more at risk of developing deficiencies, but also pollution, excessive exposure to UV rays, and prolonged use of antibiotics can affect cellular oxidation.

Useful links: 

In all these situations, consuming foods rich in antioxidants is essential to fight cellular aging. On the contrary, a diet can cause the onset of various diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, cavities, inflammation of the gums, Alzheimer’s disease and some types of cancer .

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