Antioxidants - The Stabilisers

 The body needs oxygen to remain healthy and to carry out basic activities but exposure to oxygen (oxidation) could also harm the body. This oxidation creates free radicals by altering body chemicals. Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells. Environmental sources (such as air pollution, ultraviolet radiations from the sun and second-hand smoke) and some lifestyle habits (such as smoking, unhealthy dieting and drug abuse) expose the body to the attack of free radicals. The free radicals cause some chemical changes that damage the DNA and parts of the cells of the body resulting in cancers, eye diseases, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular diseases.  While some cells could get healed by themselves, others remain permanently damaged. The body produces antioxidants that stabilize the action of free radicals through normal metabolical process.
Antioxidants are substances that have the ability to prevent or delay some forms of cell damage by neutralizing free radicals. They inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Other benefits of antioxidants include their ability to -
  • ·         Prompt the self-destruction of cancer cells.
  • ·         Provide ‘shield’ for the DNA against the action of free radicals.
  • ·         Chelate toxic metals such as mercury and arsenic, preventing them from carrying out chemical reactions in the body.
  • ·         Repair damaged molecules.

Antioxidants can be produced by the body but this ability declines with age. Foods and supplements are alternate sources of antioxidants. A healthy diet is a good source of antioxidants which comes in various forms such as vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium. Food sources are eggs, liver, milk, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds such almonds, groundnut, walnuts etc.  Other sources of antioxidants include green leafy vegetables, cereals and legumes. Some herbs and spices and green teas are also sources of antioxidants. Fruits and vegetable sources include colourful fruits and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, water melon, berries, and spinach etcetera. It is important to incorporate a variety of these antioxidant-rich foods as no one food has it all.
Foods are the best source of antioxidants but when circumstances make it a challenge to get it from foods, it is necessary to consult a nutritionist or doctor on the need for a supplement. This is as studies have shown that some high-dose supplementations have been linked to an increased risk of some health conditions. Also, healthy lifestyle habits such as reduced consumption of fats and sugars, adequate rest, effective stress management and physical activity helps an antioxidant-rich diet to perform optimally.
By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

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