Antioxidants are a word you’ve likely seen plastered over various food and beverage items. “Contains powerful antioxidants!” “Boost antioxidants in your body!” and “Packed with vital antioxidants!” are phrases I’m positive can be found on at least one item in your kitchen. But what are antioxidants?
The body is made up of trillions of cells, all working hard to ensure our survival. These vital structures that make up our body are constantly under threat from infections, lack of food, and poor air quality. But another danger to our cells comes from within, in the form of free radicals. As the body converts food into energy, free radicals are the natural byproduct.
While free radicals are naturally occurring, environmental factors also play a role. For example, they can be produced both by exercising and being exposed to cigarette smoke. That’s where antioxidants come in. They serve as the body’s defensive line by neutralizing the free radicals and helping repair DNA and keep cells healthy.
While foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and citrus fruits are high in antioxidants, as we age the number of antioxidants our body produces and absorbs decreases. That’s why the medical community is increasingly turning to supplements for optimal health.
1. Coenzyme (CoQ10)
This antioxidant is naturally produced in your body, but is one of the first to decrease as you get older. It’s also been shown that people who suffer from heart disease or have high cholesterol levels have even lower amounts of CoQ10. If you’ve never heard of this supplement, you may be wondering, “How much coq10 should I take?” Depending on your age and size, the recommended dose is between 90 and 200 mg a day. But like taking any new medication or supplement, you should always consult your doctor.
2. Vitamin C
If you wake up with sniffles, do you reach for a glass of orange juice or pop a vitamin C tablet in your mouth? Citrus fruits have long been used to fend off disease but really gained traction in the 1970s. However, hundred of years ago, medical professionals and healers noticed that consuming a diet that incorporated lemons, oranges, and other fruits in the citrus family, prevented scurvy (over two million sailors died of scurvy between 1500 and 1800).
Taking vitamin C daily is essential to help control infections and heal wounds, in addition to the production of collagen and several hormones and chemical messengers in the nervous system. It’s important to note the fact it needs to be taken on a daily basis as its not stored well in the body.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E’s main function is to serve as an antioxidant. It cleans up free radicals, protecting cells from damage. Additionally, it provides an immunity boost and stops clots from developing in the arteries. If you have a condition where your body doesn’t absorb fat properly, you are more likely to be deficient in this crucial vitamin.
4. Vitamin A
The benefits of vitamin A are pretty clear to see. That was a pun because vitamin A supports eye health. There are two primary types of the vitamin that are found in foods we typically consume. Preformed vitamin A includes retinol and retinyl esters, while the body converts provitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene into retinol.
If you’re looking to only increase your vitamin A intake by food, you’ll find that most breakfast cereals, juices and dairy products contain higher levels of the preformed vitamin A retinol. Many fruits and vegetables like kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin contain a good amount of beta-carotene.
Zinc is a powerful antioxidant that, surprisingly, isn’t often discussed. Nearly 30% of the elderly population in developed countries are reportedly deficient in zinc. That’s a large chunk of the population for an element that’s relatively easy to incorporate into a daily routine. It boasts anti-inflammatory and immunity-boosting properties. Studies have shown that people who take zinc supplements have lower infection rates and decreased oxidative stress.
This antioxidant promotes a whole slew of bodily processes, including improvements in cognition, immunity, and fertility. The thyroid relies heavily on this nutrient as it plays an essential part in regulating hormones and metabolism. And like all other antioxidants, it protects the cells from damage and infection. The foods that most commonly contain selenium include nuts, seafood and meats. The recommended dosage is 55 mcg, 60 mcg during pregnancy and 70 mcg while breastfeeding. The slight uptick during pregnancy is to reduce the risk of miscarriage and may prevent your child from developing asthma.
It’s important to note that one antioxidant alone won’t keep you at your optimal health. Our bodies require variety, so it’s important to get as many antioxidants as you can through your diet and supplements. Remember, every antioxidant is different and does unique things for your body.