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Antioxidants and Their Benefits

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Increasing one's antioxidant intake is essential for optimum health, especially in today's polluted world. Because the body just can't keep up with antioxidant production, a good amount of these vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes must come from one's daily diet. Boosting your antioxidant intake can help provide added protection for the body against:

• Memory problems

• Mood disorders

• Immune system problems

• Heart problems

• Eye problems

The human body naturally produces free radicals and the antioxidants to counteract their damaging effects. However, in most cases, free radicals far outnumber the naturally occurring antioxidants. In order to maintain the balance, a continual supply of external sources of antioxidants is necessary in order to obtain the maximum benefits of antioxidants. Antioxidants benefit the body by neutralizing and removing the free radicals from the bloodstream.

Antioxidants protect cells against free radical damage. Free radicals not only damage cells, but also may contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants that protect against these diseases include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. Many foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and some fish, poultry and meats provide antioxidants.

Antioxidants come up frequently in discussions about good health and preventing diseases. These powerful substances, which mostly come from the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat, prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body. The benefits of antioxidants are very important to good health, because if free radicals are left unchallenged, they can cause a wide range of illnesses and chronic diseases.

The level of antioxidant capacity in foods measured in ORACs, Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, allows comparison of antioxidants in various fruits and vegetables. According to testing of fruits and vegetables at Kansas State University, prunes had the highest level of antioxidants at 57,701 ORACs. The next highest were raisins at 2,830, blueberries at 2,400 and blackberries at 2,036.

Next in descending order of ORACs came garlic at 1,940, Kale at 1,770, strawberries at 1,540, spinach at 1,260 and raspberries at 1,220. Fruits and vegetables with between 1,000 and 500 ORACS were Brussels sprouts, plums, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli flowers, beets, oranges, red grapes, red bell pepper, cherries, kiwi fruit and pink grapefruit. Fruits and vegetables with increasingly smaller antioxidant capacity included white grapes, onions, yellow corn, eggplant, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, leaf lettuce, string beans, carrots, yellow squash, iceberg lettuce, celery and cucumbers.

Singlet oxygen can compromise the immune system, because it has the ability to catalyze production of free radicals. Astaxanthin and Spirulina have been shown to enhance both the non-specific and specific immune system, and to protect cell membranes and cellular DNA from mutation. Astaxanthin is the single most powerful quencher of singlet oxygen, and is up to ten times stronger than other carotenoids (including beta-carotene), and up to 500 times stronger than alpha tocopherol (Vitamin E), while Spirulina has a variety of antioxidants and other substances that are beneficial in boosting immunity.

When skin is exposed to high levels of ultraviolet light, photo-oxidative damage is induced by the formation of different types of reactive species of oxygen, including singlet oxygen, superoxide radicals, and peroxide radicals. These forms of reactive oxygen damage cellular lipids, proteins, and DNA, and they are considered to be the primary contributors to erythema (sunburn), premature aging of the skin, photodermatoses, and skin cancers.

There are a wide range of antioxidants found in nature, and because they are so varied, different antioxidants provide benefits to different parts of the body. For example, beta-carotene (and other carotenoids) is very beneficial to eye health; lycopene is beneficial for helping maintain prostate health; flavonoids are especially beneficial for heart health; and proanthocyanidins are beneficial for urinary tract health.

 

Astaxanthin, followed by beta-carotene combined with vitamin E has been shown to be one of the most powerful antioxidant combinations for helping protect the skin from reactive species of oxygen. Many fruits and some vegetables contain high levels of carotenoids, vitamins, phenols, flavonoids and glutathionine. These antioxidants, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, can act as free radical scavengers, decompose peroxide, quench singlet and triplet oxygen as well as inhibit some enzymes. By decreasing the high levels of free radicals generated by metabolism, antioxidants decrease oxidative stress and prevent biochemical and physiological injury that can lead to functional impairment or cell death.