We hear a lot about antioxidants and free radicals. But what are they? Why should we care about them?
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that fight oxidization. An example of oxidization that we’re all familiar with is when we cut an apple open, leave it to set then come back to a nice, brown apple. The apple has been oxidized through a transfer of oxygen, enzymes and other elements present in the apple. So how does the process of oxidation occur in our bodies and why do we need to combat it with antioxidants?
What Are Free Radicals?
Before we can truly learn about antioxidants, we must first learn about free radicals, the molecules that create oxidation in our bodies. Our bodies naturally produce free radicals through immune function, breathing, detoxification in the liver and even while you work out. These free radicals are molecules that are in need of an electron, and they will aggressively look to replace that missing electron. Where do they find the much-needed electron? They’ll happily take it from other healthy cells thereby creating another electron-hungry molecule. This sets off a chain reaction called oxidative stress, meaning your body is overloaded with free radicals and not enough antioxidants to combat the overload.
What is worse is we can be exposed to external factors such as pollution, stress, medications, lack of sleep, poor nutrition or smoking. This creates even more free radicals in our bodies, more than what the body can handle. This can cause premature aging, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer, just to name a few. Excess free radicals will cause damage everywhere in the body and many of us have more free radicals than we realize.
The Best Natural Sources of Antioxidants
The best way to ensure that you are not overloaded with free radicals is to eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats and small amounts of fruit, whole grains, and meat. An easy way to know if your diet is high in antioxidants is to look at the color of your food. If it is bright red, orange or dark green, they’re likely packed with antioxidants. Foods like green leafy vegetables, peppers, carrots and sweet potatoes are high on the list for antioxidant content – all are beautifully and naturally brightly colored foods. Other foods high in antioxidants include:
- Spices and herbs
- Dark chocolate (86% or higher)
- Green tea
A healthy diet also includes foods such as legumes, pumpkins seeds, spinach, and eggs. By including these in your diet you also ensure that you are getting important trace minerals such as selenium, zinc, copper, and manganese, that many antioxidants use to function properly.
Do you need an antioxidant supplement?
The answer is yes if you smoke, take medications, have a poor diet, do not get enough sleep, are chronically overloaded with stress or are routinely doing high endurance training. The key is knowing when you are in extreme situations. More is not better when it comes to antioxidants because remember, your body actually needs free radicals for things such as fighting infections or liver detoxification. A weekend of poor diet or stressful day at work does not deem an extreme situation. However, if your diet primarily consists of processed food, prolonged high-stress situations or rarely getting over 5 hours of sleep, you are likely in need of some extra antioxidants (and some lifestyle changes!).
If you are looking to supplement with antioxidants look for:
- Vitamin A, C, and E
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- CoQ10 (Ubiquinone)
Remember, the best way to ensure that you are not overloaded with free radicals is a healthy lifestyle. This includes proper diet, regular exercise, at least 6 hours of quality sleep, and managing your stress levels. A healthy lifestyle also includes managing your body’s internal stress. When our body’s innate ability to heal is compromised we begin to see signs of this in things like frequent colds or flu, skin problems, chronic fatigue, or digestive issues. If you are experiencing these symptoms already, it’s your body’s way of screaming that it’s under stress and not able to heal itself. That’s why chiropractic care is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. While we must give attention to our diet, exercise and stress levels we’re fighting an uphill battle if our spines are misaligned, compromising the body’s ability to heal itself.
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