Antioxidants – Part One

Antioxidants – What’s the hype?

Everyone has most likely heard that food high in antioxidants are incredibly good for you. But how many of us know what antioxidants are and how they actually work?

Before we explain how antioxidants work, we need to understand what free radicals are. Our bodies are made up of about 30 TRILLION cells. Each of these cells is made up of millions of molecules. Molecules consist of a nucleus of protons and neutrons and one or more rings of orbiting electrons. Now, all the chemical processes that happen in our body are dependent on the relationships these molecules have with each other.

Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron in its outer ring, and so are unstable. To become stable, they steal an electron from unsuspecting molecules, in turn causing them to become unstable.12

To visualize this, it is like a single man or woman (i.e. free radicals) entering a couples only event. Calm can only ensue if each person has a partner. If the odd free radical comes in and breaks up a couple and steals a partner, it creates a volatile atmosphere that quickly spreads across the dance floor, causing confusion, resentment, and chaos. Not only has the free radical disrupted an existing relationship, but it has also created a newly single individual, who then goes on to steal a partner from another happy couple.

So, as you can imagine, having an excess of unstable singletons drifting around is one of the primary reasons for inflamed relationships between molecules. This ‘inflammation’ in our bodies is associated with human disease, as it impacts blood vessel lining, internal organs, and damages DNA. This results in diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer, Parkinson disease, and many others.9 10 11 Some scientists also believe that they may have a link to ageing.7 8

This is where antioxidants play a crucial role. Antioxidants are molecules that contain an extra electron, which they can give to the free radical molecule, thus neutralising them and rendering them harmless.12 In other words, antioxidants are like peacekeeping molecules. They can calmly donate an extra molecule to our distraught singles, to create a new pair. Once these singles become a pair, the uproar settles down.

Our body produces some antioxidants on its own, but an insufficient amount. Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals and too few antioxidants, causing an imbalance. Therefore, we need to introduce antioxidants into our bodies through our diet. Antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, especially colourful ones. Berries, green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate are popular sources of antioxidants.12

Spices such as cinnamon are loaded with powerful antioxidants, such as polyphenols.5 6 In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon wound up as the clear winner, even outranking “superfoods” like garlic and oregano.1

Many substances that happen to be antioxidants also have other important functions. Notable examples include cinnamon, turmeric and extra virgin olive oil, which function as antioxidants but also have potent anti-inflammatory activity.2 3 4

We must always remember how important the intake of antioxidants is to lead a healthy life. As the body ages, its capacity to fight against excessive free radicals decreases further, making it even more vital to be aware of including sufficient antioxidant-rich foods and supplements in our diet.12 8

References:

  1. Antioxidant Capacity of 26 Spice Extracts and Characterization of Their Phenolic Constituents
  2. Anti-inflammatory Activity of Cinnamon (C. Zeylanicum and C. Cassia) Extracts – Identification of E-cinnamaldehyde and O-Methoxy Cinnamaldehyde as the Most Potent Bioactive Compounds
  3. Role of Curcumin in Systemic and Oral Health: An Overview
  4. Molecular Mechanisms of Inflammation. Anti-inflammatory Benefits of Virgin Olive Oil and the Phenolic Compound Oleocanthal 
  5. Cinnamon: A Multifaceted Medicinal Plant
  6. Anti-oxidant Effects of Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum) Bark and Greater Cardamom (Amomum Subulatum) Seeds in Rats Fed High Fat Diet
  7. Involvement of Free Radicals in Ageing: A Consequence or Cause of Senescence
  8. Free Radicals and Aging by I. Emerit and B. Chance
  9. The Role of Free Radicals in Disease 
  10. Free Radical Oxidative Damage and Alzheimer’s Disease
  11. The Role of Free Radicals in the Aging Brain and Parkinson’s Disease: Convergence and Parallelism
  12. Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Functional Foods: Impact on Human Health

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