What are antioxidants and why are they important?
Antioxidants work within your body to help keep you healthy on a foundational level. They do this by protecting the health of your cells.
Antioxidants work within your body to help keep you healthy on a foundational level. They do this by protecting the health of your cells – which are the building blocks of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. All of our bodies contain free radicals – rogue molecules that, in healthy numbers, are fine. But if too many free radicals build up in the body, they can attack your cells – hindering the foundations of your healthy body. This is where antioxidants come in. They neutralize free radicals, reducing the damage they can cause to your cells. By doing this, they can enable you to function with optimal energy and stamina, so that you can give more to the people and activities that mean the most to you.
The interesting thing about antioxidants is that they come in many different forms. Some occur naturally within your body, others need to be consumed through food – and some are available as supplements. Different antioxidants work in different ways. Some work to neutralize free radicals at their main source – within your mitochondria: the tiny batteries that live deep within your cells. Others connect with free radicals in other areas of your body, like your tissues or skeletal muscles.
Keep reading to learn about different forms of antioxidants, what they do within your body and where you can source them.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is made naturally within your mitochondria. It’s a seriously important antioxidant because it 1) forms a boundary that helps to prevent free radicals from reaching your cells, 2) neutralizes free radicals and 3) supports your body’s energy production. Approximately 90% of your body’s free radicals are produced within your mitochondria – so containing and neutralizing them before they can reach your cells is paramount. Having adequate CoQ10 levels is one of the best things you can do to help protect your cells.
When we’re young and healthy, our CoQ10 levels are naturally in pretty good condition. But as we age, our mitochondria do too – and this is when our natural CoQ10 levels can start to decline. As a result, an increasing number of free radicals can escape your mitochondria and begin to cause havoc like a drop in energy, stamina and overall wellbeing. Until the 1990s, scientists couldn’t find a CoQ10 supplement that could enter mitochondria in meaningful doses – making it extremely difficult to address free radical damage throughout the aging process. However, in the 1990s, advanced cellular health technology led to MitoQ: a CoQ10 molecule that has been clinically shown to fight cell stress. To date, MitoQ is one of the most effective antioxidants that you can use to neutralize free radicals.
Vitamin C isn’t made naturally within your body; it needs to be consumed through supplements or fruits and vegetables such as capsicum, grapefruit, tomatoes, sweet potato, silverbeet and strawberries. Once you consume vitamin C, it enters your body’s fluids and is carried to your tissues. From there, it can aid iron absorption, help your body grow and acts as an antioxidant - neutralizing free radicals.
Ongoing research is being carried out on how vitamin C acts as an antioxidant but, so far, experts advise that it can regenerate other antioxidants within the body, particularly vitamin E. Multiple studies have also found that vitamin C can reduce cell stress that is caused by exercise. The good thing about vitamin C as an antioxidant is that it’s extremely easy to come by. Simply follow a balanced diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, and you should easily consume an adequate daily dose of vitamin C.
Vitamin E can be consumed through a variety of nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and supplements. Once consumed, vitamin E is stored in your liver and within your body’s fatty tissue.
Experts propose that vitamin E acts as an antioxidant by halting the production of free radicals that are created when fat is converted into energy. Studies have found that vitamin E supplementation lowers hs-CRP levels (a protein that, at high levels, is associated with inflammation) and increases nitric oxide (a molecule associated with heart health). A review of multiple human studies has also found that vitamin E supplementation can significantly lower MDA levels (a compound used as a marker for cell stress). Overall, these findings suggests that vitamin E supplementation is effective at fighting cell stress.
Zinc is another antioxidant that isn’t naturally made within the body – it's absorbed through supplementation or food sources such as oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and some whole grains. Once consumed, the majority of your zinc intake will enter your skeletal muscle and bone mass.
Zinc plays several important roles in cellular function, including cell division (when one cell divides into multiple cells) and DNA synthesis (the creation of DNA molecules). A review of the effects of zinc within multiple human trials has concluded that zinc supplementation can be used in response to cell stress.
Like many antioxidants, selenium needs to be consumed as it’s not naturally present in your body. It can be found in Brazil nuts, seafood, organ meats, dairy foods, and some grains. Once consumed, the majority of selenium is stored in your body tissue and skeletal muscle. It then works to support reproduction, thyroid health, DNA synthesis and cellular health.
That being said, researchers still appear to be on the fence about how effective selenium is as an antioxidant supplement. Studies and human trial reviews have looked into selenium's impact on cell stress, but the common conclusion is that more research is needed. Researchers currently aren’t sure exactly how selenium works to protect cells and tissues from free radical damage.
Glutathione is naturally produced within a cell fluid named cytosol, but it can also be taken as a supplement and absorbed when you eat certain foods. Foods like garlic, broccoli and spinach are all sources of glutathione.
Your body uses glutathione as an antioxidant by transferring it from your cell fluid to your mitochondria. Of course, it needs some help passing through the mitochondria’s inner membrane. This help comes in the form of a protein called dicarboxylate and a 2-oxoglutarate carrier. Together, these carriers transport glutathione into your mitochondria. Once inside your mitochondria, glutathione works to neutralize free radicals before they are able to escape the mitochondria and damage your cells. Like CoQ10, glutathione levels naturally decline with age. While glutathione supplementation has been shown to reduce cell stress within human trials, researchers have concluded that there are challenges with glutathione supplementation due to limited bioavailability.
Alpha-lipoic acid is another antioxidant that’s made naturally within your mitochondria. It can also be taken as a supplement but, due to limited bioavailability, it may not be able to act as an antioxidant in meaningful amounts within a supplement form.
Alpha-lipoic acid has a few important roles. It supports energy production within your mitochondria and works to protect your body from cell stress. In terms of supplementation, research has produced mixed results. One human study, published in 1999, concluded that alpha-lipoic acid can increase the body’s antioxidant levels. Further research has found that alpha-lipoic acid supplementation doesn’t have a significant influence on cell stress. Multiple studies have suggested that further research is needed on alpha-lipoic acid supplementation.
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