Antioxidants—What, Why, & How
By now we’ve all heard the term antioxidant. We’re also vaguely aware that antioxidants are good and we should try to include them in our diets. But what are antioxidants, what do they do in our bodies, and why do we need them?
Before we talk about antioxidants, we need to talk about what it is in our bodies that they fight. So we’re going to start by taking a look at free radicals.
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What are Free Radicals?
Free radical is the term that scientists use to describe an oxygen molecule that has split into single atoms inside your body. Those atoms have only a single electron and electrons want to be in pairs. The result is atoms always looking for another electron to form a pair.
As these unstable atoms search, they destroy other cells in the body. They also damage proteins and DNA. The ongoing process of free radicals attacking other cells is called oxidative stress.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
So how do our bodies acquire these unstable, single-electron atoms?
Some free radicals are the result of normal, everyday bodily functioning. More can be produced when certain conditions are present in the body, such as inflammation or injury. Still others are the result of exposure to things in the environment, such as air pollution, pesticides, processed foods, and cigarette smoke.
Some level of free radicals is necessary for healthy body functions, as these molecules fight pathogens and help ward off infection. But excess free radicals are more like waste that the body needs to deal with so it doesn’t harm our cells.
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What is Oxidative Stress?
Either internal or external processes can cause an excess of free radicals in your body or an imbalance between the free radicals and the substances available to neutralize them. In their search for electrons, free radicals react with other molecules. The chemical reaction that results is called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress over time leads to cell damage that can result in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Oxidative stress is also thought to play a part in functional decline and the aging process.
On the outside, oxidative stress can cause premature aging of the skin. The result is wrinkles, rough texture, and dry skin.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are the heroes of this story. They are molecules that bond with and stabilize free radicals, keeping them from damaging cells and tissues.
Our bodies naturally produce antioxidants just as they produce free radicals. As we age it is thought that antioxidant production decreases, and as we know, free radical production can increase due to both internal and external factors.
That leaves us with a shortage of antioxidants and ultimately oxidative stress. So how do we remedy this imbalance?
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Eat Your Antioxidants
You can supplement your body’s production of antioxidants in several ways, the first being through the food you eat. You can reduce extra free radicals by avoiding fatty, processed foods, and increase your antioxidants by eating fresh, whole foods.
Antioxidants are more abundant in food that has not been overly processed. So vitamin C, which is an antioxidant, is better when gotten by eating an orange than by drinking a sports drink.
The vitamin content may be the same in the orange and the sports drink, but the orange comes with no processing or other ingredients that can encourage free radicals or decrease the efficacy of the antioxidant.
Foods that are rich in antioxidants include fresh fruits and vegetables, especially berries and green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, fish, dark chocolate, and tea.
The important thing to remember about eating antioxidants is to mix things up. They aren’t all the same, so eating a variety of antioxidant-rich foods is the best way to maintain a good balance.
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Supplement Your Antioxidants
There is much debate about using antioxidant supplements, especially at high doses. Some feel it is appropriate, others point to studies indicating some do more harm than good.
In general, conventional wisdom indicates that getting your antioxidants naturally through the food you eat is the best way. But there are times that you can’t get enough fruit and veggies in your diet, and that may be the time for a multi-vitamin.
However, there is another way to supplement antioxidants in food. Other substances have naturally high levels of one or more antioxidants. Studies show that CBD has antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory qualities.
Rather than artificially adding other antioxidants, CBD has its own. The same is true of spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, and herbs such as oregano, thyme, and peppermint.
The herbs used in herbal teas like chamomile and lavender, and lion’s mane mushrooms are also sources of antioxidants.
Antioxidants, Stress, and Anxiety
We talk a lot here about anxiety and stress. Stress has many effects on the body, and some of them involve the extra use of vitamins that are also antioxidants. There has been at least one study showing that supplementing antioxidants can be a way to reduce the anxiety associated with stress.
We’ve talked before about the calming properties of different teas, but tea can also be a great source of antioxidants. It’s also a terrific medium for supplementation. Our Stress Functional Support drops are packed with natural antioxidants and the strawberry lemonade flavor complements tea nicely.
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Finding the Balance
The key to many things in our bodies is balance. And nowhere is that more true than the balance of free radicals and antioxidants. Many things in our environment, and even in our bodies, can produce excess free radicals.
Our bodies produce antioxidants, but that function decreases with age and is impaired by stress. Eating a variety of foods containing natural antioxidants helps meet that challenge.
Studies indicate that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other plant-based foods is a good way to boost your antioxidant levels. Tea, CBD, herbs, and spices also contain antioxidants.
Enjoying a variety of foods and other sources of natural antioxidants is an important way to keep our bodies healthy.