Antioxidants are the substances that neutralize free radicals and are essential to staying healthy.

Free radicals are very unstable chemical elements, as they have lost an electron. In order to stabilize themselves, they take away the missing electrons from other molecules around them, thus destabilizing these molecules and transforming them into free radicals. This occurs successively and causes a chain reaction that leads to negative health effects throughout life.

Free radicals may have an endogenous origin, as a result of the normal activity of the body’s cells, or an exogenous origin, when the increased production of free radicals is due to factors such as certain components of environmental pollution, food pollution (pesticides, colors, etc.), tobacco, alcohol, ultraviolet radiation (prolonged solar exposure) or medicines.

What are antioxidants?

They have different origins: the body has its own antioxidant defensive systems, such as certain enzymes, proteins or other molecules, such as glutathione, etc.; but antioxidants can also be found in the phenolic compounds of many fruits and vegetables, in some medicinal plants or nutrients such as vitamins C and E or beta-carotene, among others.

What are the effects of free radicals on our bodies?

When our bodies do not have sufficient antioxidants to neutralize free radicals, there is an excess of free radicals that damage structures such as cell membranes or other molecules such as proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, unsaturated fatty acids, etc.

The excess of free radicals can generate several chronic degenerative diseases, such as different types of cancer, dementia, cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, diabetes, etc.

Antioxidants and health

Antioxidants are essential for the health of our bodies. It is advisable to follow a well-balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables to delay aging, improve health, and reinforce the defenses of our bodies by counteracting the negative effects of free radicals.

A good source of antioxidant substances is foods that contain them naturally. Fortunately, there are multiple foods with antioxidant action available in our daily diet. Here are some antioxidant substances and the foods that contain them:

  • Beta-carotene: It is a carotenoid (a pigment of vegetable origin that is transformed into vitamin A inside the body) with important antioxidant action which protects against cardiovascular diseases and cataracts, and is efficient for the proper maintenance of the immune system. It is found mainly in vegetable foods, in fruits and vegetables, and is responsible for the yellow, orange and red colors of carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, spinach, parsley, melon, peach, apricot, pepper, etc.
  • Lycopene: It is a natural pigment of the carotene family and is considered one of the strongest antioxidants. It causes the red color of vegetables, such as tomatoes, which have the highest concentration of this substance. It is also found in other foods, such as watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, grapes and peppers.
  • Vitamin C: It has antioxidant properties, reinforces the resistance of our bodies against infections, is involved in collagen synthesis in the skin and hormonal production, and facilitates the absorption of iron. This vitamin is abundant in citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, grapefruits and other vegetables, such as fresh soybeans, tomatoes, etc.
  • Vitamin E: It has a relevant antioxidant action and is one of the most important lipid-soluble antioxidants. It also maintains the integrity of the cellular membrane and contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system. It is mainly found in vegetable oils (olive, seeds, soybean, corn, etc.), nuts, avocado, egg yolk, cereals, etc.
  • Minerals Selenium and Zinc: They are part, respectively, of two enzymes produced by the body: glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase, with important antioxidant properties. Some high-selenium foods are oat, brown rice, peach, eggs, mushrooms, seafood, sunflower seeds, brewer’s yeast, etc. Zinc is found in foods such as oysters, cereals, nuts, egg yolks, etc.

Medicinal Plants with antioxidant action

Flavonoids, anthocyanosises, phenolic acids and procyanidins are some of the compounds with antioxidant activity that are found in plants such as ginkgo bilobagreen tea, Siberian ginseng, bilberry and black currant.

Rosemary has strong antioxidant properties in increasing the action of the enzyme glutathione S-transferase, which is an important enzyme that protects proteins, nucleic acids and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) from the oxidation caused by free radicals.

Resveratrol is a substance that is found in the dehydrated juice of the skin and seeds of black grapes. A large number of studies support its antioxidant action.

Aronia berries surpass the total phenolic compounds of any other berry, help eliminate free radicals, and stimulate the formation of antioxidant enzymes.

Some studies on the beneficial antioxidant effects of green tea have popularized the consumption of this plant to improve human health and prevent diseases related to excess free radicals.

Astragalus is a plant that is widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since it contains a wide variety of active compounds, including saponins and flavonoids with antioxidant properties.

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