Antioxidants – Your Secret Weapon

Posted by Kate at 3:39 PM on Aug 17, 2021


The word “antioxidant” seems to be a bit of a health food buzzword, it's often used to describe the latest superfood and to make certain foods more attractive to consumers. An antioxidant is any compound, natural or manmade, which can delay or repair cell damage as a result of environmental factors like pollution or a poor diet or from stress and high activity levels. They can be taken as a supplement, but are naturally occurring in certain foods, and this is a much better way of ingesting them as it encourages a generally healthy diet. Eating fast food every day, then taking an antioxidant capsule and a multivitamin just isn't going to cut it because antioxidants often need other foods and compounds to help them work properly. It's a bit like putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg.

Antioxidants include

  • beta carotene
  • selenium
  • lycopene
  • zeaxanthin
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E

Antioxidants are used to combat cell damage arising from a number of sources. They counteract something called “oxidative stress” which is caused by free radicals. Free radicals aren't a political movement, but a form of highly unstable molecule that the body releases during exercise, during exposure to sunlight and during exposure to other environmental factors like smoke or pollution. So, we go for a run in the sun, and our bodies generate free radicals. These molecules lead to oxidative stress on our cells, so then we need to eat foods high in antioxidants to delay and prevent this cell damage. It's not just smokers or people with unhealthy lifestyles who need antioxidants, even the healthiest person with an active lifestyle needs them.

Many observational dietary studies have been done, and these all point towards antioxidants playing a big role in the prevention of cell damage that can lead to so many health issues including failing eyesight, stroke and Parkinson's disease .In laboratory conditions antioxidants have been found to interact with and stabilise free radicals, demonstrating their ability to counteract the damaging effects that free radicals have on our cells. Some more recent trials looking at the effects of taking antioxidant supplements found no direct link between taking the capsule and a lower incidence of disease, so there is still some research to be done on the value of supplements with antioxidant properties. The dietary studies provide a clearer picture of how a diet high in antioxidant foods can be beneficial, especially when combined with a generally healthy diet and lifestyle – that's why you see a nutritionist and don't just pop a pill instead (although supplements can be helpful to help support our health if used appropriately).

Antioxidants can be powerful things.If you are considering changing your diet, or taking a supplement please check with your doctor if you are on medication, because some compounds can interact with medications or actually increase the likelihood of some diseases in at-risk groups. Beta carotene, for example, has been found to increase the chances of smokers developing lung cancer when taken in the high doses often found in supplementation. That's why it is important to consult a nutritionist and your GP when starting any new supplements.

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