ANTIOXIDANTS TO COMBAT FREE RADICALS
If you are engaging in using food as part of your wellness journey, I'm sure you are hearing all about oxidative stress and the power of antioxidants. I wanted to pull together some info so we know WHY it's so important to eat a diet rich in antioxidants!
WHAT ARE FREE RADICALS?
Atoms are surrounded by electrons that orbit the atom in layers called shells. When a shell is full, electrons begin filling the next shell. If an atom has an outer shell that isn’t full, it can bond with another atom — using its electrons to complete its shell. These types of atoms are known as free radicals. Atoms with full outer shells are STABLE. But free radicals are UNSTABLE — and try to make up the numbers in their outer shell— which causes them to react quickly with other substances.
SO when oxygen molecules split into single atoms that have unpaired electrons— they become UNSTABLE FREE RADICALS that seek other atoms or molecules to bond to. This generates *oxidative stress*. Oxidative stress can damage the body’s cells, contributing to a wide range of outcomes.
OXIDATIVE STRESS IS LINKED WITH:
CNS diseases (Alzheimer’s + other dementias)
cardiovascular disease from clogged arteries
autoimmune + inflammatory disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, cancer)
age related changes (loss of skin elasticity, wrinkles, gray hair, hair loss, etc)
genetic degenerative diseases, like Huntingtons or Parkinson’s
Research indicates the free radical theory of aging is focused on the *mitochondria*: the little organelles that process nutrients to POWER the cell. Free radicals produced in the mitochondria damage substances that cells need to work well. That damage causes mutations that produce MORE free radicals — accelerating damage. This explains aging— since it accelerates over time. The gradual, increased rapid buildup of free radicals offers an explanation for why even healthy bodies deteriorate.
SO, HOW ARE FREE RADICALS GENERATED?
Our generation and children are exposed to MUCH more EMF via WiFi everywhere — and new towers are going up every day. These increase free radicals in our bodies.
And there are other causes of free radicals beyond EMF exposure:
overconsumption of high glycemic index foods rich in refined carbs and sugars
overconsumption of processed meats which contain preservatives which lead to production of free rads
overconsumption of red meat which is higher in iron and more vulnerable to oxidation overconsumption of alcohol
overconsumption of fried foods
reusing cooking fats and oils
exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides and air pollution
intense or prolonged exercise
radiation, including sunbathing
high intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids
[and more].... SO— our environment (WiFi everywhere) and our air (homes can be full of toxic air) AND our diet can GREATLY increase free radicals in our bodies. I have concern that our children are exposed to more environmental toxins than we were as children.
So - now we know about free radicals, oxidative stress, and how that impacts our body on a cellular level – and of course disease and aging. The reality is that we all undergo oxidative stress, but the good news it that we can NOURISH our bodies with antioxidants to combat the effects of free radicals.
Plants tend to offer a variety of antioxidant power!
BEETROOT: contains up to 1.7 mmol of antiox per 3.5 ounces and are particularly rich in a group of antiox called betalains, which give them their reddish color. Some studies indicate these compounds are associated with lower risk of cancers in the colon and GI tract.
COFFEE: contains 200 – 550 mg of antioxidants per cup and in fact contains more antioxidant activity than green tea. Scientists have identified more than 1,000 antioxidants in unprocessed coffee beans, and hundreds more develop during the roasting process. Coffee is rich in the antioxidants hydrocinnamic acids (effective at neutralizing free radicals) and polyphenols, which prevent many conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
SPINACH: contains up to 0.9 mmol of antioxidants per 3.5 ounces and is one of the most nutrient dense vegetables. Spinach is a great source of great source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health. If you prefer kale, that is another great option! It is loaded With power antiox like quercetin and kaempferol.
TURMERIC: The compounds in turmeric that have medicinal benefits are called curcuminoids, most importantly curcumin -- the active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin can neutralize free radicals due to it's chemical structure and can even boost the activity of our body's own antioxidant enzymes -- winning! It's actually win-win because curcumin both blocks free radicals directly, as well as supports the body's own antioxidant defenses. Curcumin has even been to cross the blood-brain barrier, which means that it's anti-oxidant effects could enter the brain and support mitigating illness such as alzheimer's disease, which is a very common neuro-degenerative disease.
BERRIES are excellent sources of antioxidants! Blueberries contain 9.2 mmol of antiox per 3.5 ounces; strawberries contain 5.4 mmol of antiox per 3.5 ounces. Studies suggest that blueberries contain the highest amount of antioxidants per commonly consumed fruits and veggies. Research shows that antioxidants in blueberries may delay age-related decline in brain function. The anthacyanins in blueberries have been shown to reduce risk for heart disease.
CACAO: one of the richest source of polyphenols! It’s especially abundant in flavanols, which have potent antioxidant effects. Several studies have found that polyphenols, such as those in cocoa, may reduce your risk of neurodegenerative diseases by improving brain function and blood flow. However, processing and heating cocoa can cause it to lose its beneficial properties. It’s also often treated with alkaline to reduce bitterness, which results in a 60% decrease in flavanol content. So stick to the high quality, least processed cacao!
This spotlights just a handful of powerful antioxidants. The earth is bursting with so many plants packed with these powerful compounds. What are your favorite antioxidant sources? The good news is that if you are eating REAL food and eating a lot of plants -- that you are sure to be fueling your body with the antioxidants it needs!