Antioxidants are substances that can prevent various harmful effects caused in the human body by active oxidants. Antioxidants not only prevent the oxidation of various free radical reactions in the body but can also help to reduce damage caused by the active reactions of free radicals.
All living organisms require oxygen for their metabolism to help break down complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats into smaller forms in order to provide energy to our body. While doing so, oxygen produces free radicals which in turn produce chain reactions in cells that may eventually lead to the death of the cell. These chain reactions should be prevented or reduced in order to prevent cell damage in the body.
Mechanism of Action
Antioxidants usually have the capacity to change the active free radicals which are responsible for causing damage to the human body into a neutral molecule before they come into contact with cells and vital organs. They get reduced in the process but prevent the cell damage. Absence of sufficient amounts of antioxidants in the body can affect these vital organs which can result in either cardiovascular diseases such as Alzheimer’s or other issues like cataracts or muscle degeneration depending upon which part of the body was affected by the free radicals.
Antioxidants come in various types and we need them in order to protect different organs in the body. Not all antioxidants are present in all organs and they help protect them from damage, so we should try to consume them in the form of natural fruits and vegetables, in the form of supplements, or in the form of physical exercise to protect ourselves from various diseases. Active free radicals can wreck the substances they touch first. For example, if they touch cell walls, this will lead to cell damage and if they touch DNA, it may cause mutation, gene defects and cancer. That is the reason we must take in antioxidants in order to minimize the harmful effects of free radicals whenever they come into contact with any area of our body.
Free radicals are atoms, ions or molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons. These unpaired electrons in the free radicals are highly reactive and unstable in nature and they tend to gain stability by acquiring electrons from other molecules. This may be done in various ways including dimerization or polymerization reactions with healthy cells in the body. This usually produces chain reactions when they come into contact with other healthy molecules or even with themselves. In the process, these free radicals attack the healthy cells in the body causing various harmful disorders and diseases like aging, cancer, atherosclerosis (damage of the arterial walls due to a derived lipid diet), various heart and brain disorders and malfunctioning of the immune system.
The other name by which free radicals are known are “oxidants”. Free radicals can also enter our body through sunlight, excessive stress, various pesticides and chemicals, pollution, etc. Many times, these oxidants are also incorporated into our body by consuming alcoholic beverages, junk food, cigarette smoking and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. However, these same free radicals are also responsible for killing harmful bacteria in the body. So the balancing of both free radicals and antioxidants is very crucial in human body.
Antioxidants act as a life saver by terminating several chain reactions in the body by removing the intermediates produced during such reactions and inhibit other oxidation reactions in the body. In doing so, they get oxidized and act like “reducing agents” in a chemical reaction. Some of the common antioxidants include ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), thiols, polyphenols, along with various vitamins and enzymes.
Antioxidants are usually found in many plants and herbs which have medicinal properties. They include:
- Aloe vera
- Acorus calamous
- Asparagus racemosusazardirachta indiaca
- Bacopa monnieri
- Desmodeium gangeticum
- Phyllnthus emblica
- Terminalia chebula
- Tinospora cordifolia
- Withania somnifera
They are also found in many other types of ayurvedic plants like Cassia fistula and Piper betel. Plants such as mountain plants, desert plants and alpine plants can also act as the best antioxidants in nature.
Antioxidants are also found in various fruits and vegetables like oranges, grapes, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, plums, apples, onions, broccoli, spinach, flax seeds and chia seeds. They are also found in green tea and black tea.
Apart from natural fruits, vegetables and plants, the human body also has several antioxidant mechanisms functioning within it naturally. These mechanisms require various enzymes like catalase, superoxide dismudase, peroxidase, glutathione, etc. They function with the help of micronutrients like zinc, selenium, copper, iron and manganese in trace quantities. So a diet with dietary deficiencies of these micronutrients may cause antioxidant deficiency in the body leading to cell damage and disorders.
Potential Health Benefits of Antioxidants
As stated earlier, antioxidants are one of the most important components required by the body in order to keep it healthy and to assist in fighting against various types of diseases and overall aging. We will definitely age with time and it is an irreversible chemical reaction which we cannot stop completely but we can definitely slow down the process and live comparatively healthy and fit. This is the main reason antioxidants are gaining importance in today’s world. Studies and research papers have shown sufficient supportive documents to prove these beneficial effects on human health. Some of them include:
- Helps to increase the immune system.
- Preservation of good health even for senior citizens.
- Increases energy.
- Improves quality of sleep.
- Treats many brain and heart injuries.
- Helps for weight loss.
- Relieves joint pain.
- Prevention of Parkinson’s disease.
- Prevention of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
- Prevention of liver damage.
- Prevention of deafness.
- Helps with critical neurological damage.
As of today, clinical researchers have not found any major harmful effects of antioxidants. However, some research scholars have mentioned that it may increase the mortality rate in elderly people, especially if they are suffering from cancer and similar diseases. This is because antioxidants may interfere with the treatment of certain drugs used for the treatment of cancer and may reduce the effect of chemotherapy treatment given to the patients. It’s important to do your own research and consult with your primary care physician to receive additional information about how antioxidants will affect your own body.