The health benefits
Decades of research suggest people who eat more generous amounts of antioxidant-rich food have increased protection against disease. Part of this protection is related to our antioxidant’s ability to fight free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.
1) Fight free radicals
Antioxidants help protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. So, what are free radicals? They are highly reactive, unstable molecules that are trying to become stable. They virtually steal what they do not have (an electron) to make themselves stable. They attack a molecule that is close by, such as a lipid or protein, and steal an electron.
Now the “robbed” molecule becomes a free radical and attacks another nearby molecule creating a chain reaction. All this theft creates damage to our cells and DNA. Enough damage and we end up with premature aging and diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
We cannot escape free radicals. They are created naturally when we breathe, exercise, and convert food to energy. There are also environmental sources of free radicals such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and sunlight. We, therefore, need an abundance of antioxidants to stop all these thieves.
2) Reduce oxidative stress
Oxidative stress occurs when we lack balance and it can damage our body and brain. It’s associated with cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis), cancer, diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease), autoimmune diseases (systemic lupus), mental stress, depression, and memory loss. And, increased stress, mood disorders, and chronic disease increase oxidative stress. A vicious cycle occurs.
Oxidative stress is also associated with inflammation. Inflammation is a key driver in chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and mood disorders like depression. There appears to be a bidirectional relationship here – oxidative stress increases inflammation, and inflammation increases free radicals leading to oxidative stress.
Antioxidants help reduce inflammation. Vitamin C, for example, has been shown to reduce c-reactive protein (CRP). Elevated CRP is associated with increased cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C was found in one study to reduce CRP by 25% in those with elevated CRP. This is amazing and comparable to CRP reductions seen with statin medication.
The body does its best to stop oxidative stress. It will produce an arsenal of antioxidants, but the body’s internal antioxidant system alone is not enough. The diet must be rich in plants to reduce the constant bombardment of free radicals successfully.
3) Mental health
The brain is especially susceptible to free radicals. The hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory, takes a big hit. Oxidative stress not only kills cells in the hippocampus but also reduces neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells).
There is growing research showing a connection between a deficient antioxidant defense system, oxidative stress, and mood disorders. The use of antioxidants as an adjunctive treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders is promising. Some researchers believe it’s possible to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms by consuming foods rich in antioxidants.
4) Brain health
The loss of neurons due to oxidative stress is linked to the development of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have been examining the effects of antioxidant therapies for their neuroprotective effects.
Several studies have shown an association between neurodegenerative disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s diseases, amyotrophic sclerosis) and antioxidant vitamin deficiency. One of these studies found a reduced risk of cognitive decline in people 65 years of age and older when given vitamin C and/or vitamin E.
Antioxidants are compounds found primarily in plants that protect us from damaging free radicals and oxidative stress. Decades of research suggest a diet full of antioxidant-rich foods protects us from disease. Foods rich in vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, selenium, and phytochemicals provide us with antioxidants. A simple strategy to increase your antioxidants is to eat an abundance of colorful plants every day.
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Source: Jessica Gavin