What exactly are antioxidants?

Free radicals are produced by the cells of our body as the byproducts of metabolic pathways that convert food into energy. Also incomplete oxidation of substances produces free radicals in our body. They are also created by direct exposure of skin in the Sunlight or UV light. Over the course of time, these free radicals cause changes in the constituent of cells, including changes in DNA sequences. Antioxidants are substances that cease or stop the harm caused by these free radicals. The most common antioxidants are Vitamins C and E, beta-carotenes, selenium and manganese.Antioxidants:Beyond the Hype, Antioxidants and free radicals are household names today, though this weren't always the case. 

Sources of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are commonly found in everyday food we eat; vegetables, fruits, milk, cereals and others. Here’s a list of some important antioxidants and their food sources:

1. Vitamin A – Liver, Milk, eggs, spinach and other vegetables.
2. Vitamin C – it is commonly found in citrus fruits (orange, lemon) and also in non-citrus fruits such as papaya.
3. Vitamin E – vegetable oils (sunflower, soybean, etc), nuts, and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.
4. Beta Carotene – yellow, orange and green leafy fruits and vegetables ( carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach)
5. Selenium- found in cereals, nuts, animal products and garlic.


Health benefits

There are a wide range of antioxidants found in nature and thus these different antioxidants benefit different parts of the body.

 1. Beta carotene is important for eye health; lycopene is used to maintain proper prostate health.

2. Skin when exposed to high level of UV light results in sunburns, premature aging of skin and also skin cancers. Beta- Carotene combined with Vitamin E is known to prevent such type of skin diseases.
3. Astaxanthin and Spirulina are found to enhance specific and non-specific immune responses, thus helping the body to fight off against diseases.
4. A daily intake of the right amounts of antioxidant in your diet is necessary to stay healthy. Antioxidants are well known to ward off heart and eye disorders.
5. Combination of Vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and zinc protects individuals from macular degeneration.

Potential hazards

Although antioxidants are mostly beneficial, there are some possible side effects of taking antioxidants in your diet. A few studies and research have shown that taking antioxidants either in single or combined form can raise some health issues. A study shows the increase in the risk of lung cancer of heavy smokers if they take beta carotene singly or combined with Vitamin A in their diet.

In another study, women who took antioxidants like Vitamin C, beta carotene, selenium, etc, were shown to be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.

Free radicals are the cause of chronic diseases from heart disorders, to Alzheimer’s to loss of vision. This does not state that taking antioxidants would cure the diseases. But the study of the effectiveness of the antioxidants is still in progress and is still inconclusive. But taking in antioxidants rich diet which includes, fruits green vegetables is required for our overall health.