Why Our Body Needs Antioxidants
Antioxidants, as the name itself suggest that they have opposite function to oxidants. Antioxidants are powerful molecules found in body and other natural foods which prevent certain type of damage in humans. Generally in normal human cells various oxidation reactions take place which generate free radicals there by damaging the normal cells. These damages might result in cancer or various other disorders like heart problems, eye problems, and immune related issues, disorders in mood and memory problems. In order to protect our body from such dangerous effects, anti oxidants have a crucial role to play.
In general, Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and prevent the harmful effects of oxidants on human body. Hence anti oxidants are also called as "free radical scavengers". Anti oxidants are produced in the human body or taken artificially through diets or supplements. Common antioxidants include glutathione, beta carotene, lycopene, catalase, superoxide dismutase, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E. Anti oxidants are good for health when taken in limited quantities. Sometimes free radicals outnumber in antioxidants present in our body and cause damage to the body; in such cases extra supply or intake of antioxidants might be necessary. Anti oxidants supply electrons to the free radicals and prevent their chain reaction. Apart from the oxidants which are generated inside the human body, there are other sources of oxidants like pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol etc. Considering today's environment and pollution antioxidants produced in the body are not adequate enough to counter balance those harmful effects. Based on the solubility, antioxidants can be broadly classified into two classes namely, enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants.
Several neuronal disorders are caused by defects in complex of biochemical reactions and substantial processes that ultimately result in accumulation of oxidative free radicals. Prevention of the neurodegeneration and neuroprotection are highly important areas of research. There are several approaches to prevent neurodamage such as use of antioxidants to improve the protective mechanisms.
1) Enzymatic antioxidants are produced by our body itself and they work by removing or breaking down of free radicals. Theses antioxidants convert them into hydrogen peroxide followed by conversion into water through multiple reactions. These end products are finally excreted from the body. Important enzymatic antioxidants include:
a) Superoxide dismutase which is found in aerobic cells and extracellular fluids breaks superoxide into hydrogen peroxide and oxygen, with the help of certain cofactors. In the next step, catalase comes into picture. Now another type of antioxidant plays the game.
b) Catalase hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen with the help of iron and manganese as cofactors.
c) Another type of enzymatic antioxidants are Glutathione peroxidise and glutathione reductase present mostly in liver and contain selenium, break down hydrogen peroxide and organic peroxides into various alcohols
2) second class of antioxidants are non enzymatic which work by interrupting the free radical chain reactions and include molecules like vitamins, carotenoids and plant polyphenols. These are normally taken when we deplete out of enzymatic antioxidants. These are taken in the form of supplements.
Oxidative stress is the result of disequilibrium in the oxidant/antioxidant levels which is caused by the increase in the production of reactive Oxygen and Reactive Nitrogen species production. Antioxidants act by scavenging free radicals. Deficiencies in antioxidant production can develop as a result of increased antioxidant utilization or decreased antioxidant intake. Hence, supplementation of antioxidants has become popular practice to maintain proper body physiology.
Carotenoids are a type of pigments produced naturally and have powerful antioxidant properties. To mention, Astaxanthin is a very potent antioxidant produced by a marine organism Hematococcus pluvialis is considered to be 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54X powerful than betacarotene, and 14X powerful than vitamin E. It also can cross blood-brain barrier. It is believed to specifically quench particular type of oxidation caused by sunlight. This Astaxanthin also offers a wide range of benefits like protection from dementia, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma etc.
Oxidative stress caused by free radical-induced damage appears to be a major factor for the pathogenesis of many newborn diseases including necrotizing enterocolitis, retinopathy of prematurity and respiratory distress syndrome.
Apart from these major antioxidants produced by our body are:
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): It is a very powerful antioxidant produced in our body. It is known to modify gene expression and is a highly active chelating agent. Studies show that ALA is the only antioxidant which can pass easily from body to brain, which protects us and prevent us from getting Alzheimer’s disease. ALA is also known to regenerate certain antioxidants when they are depleted from our body.
Resvertrol: it is also known to cross blood brain and protect us from certain types of brain diseases is found in grapes; red wine etc .This also has a role in preventing particularly prostate cancer. Vitamin C: considered as the god father of all the antioxidants. It functions as an astonishing source of electrons and protects other molecules in the body from effects of ROS.
Antioxidants also play a very important in role in protecting sperm cells from oxidative stress5 . In general different types of antioxidants have different types of benefits on different parts of the human body. Important benefits of antioxidants include
1) Some antioxidants are known to provide some anti cancer chemicals and help in mitigating cancer cells growth and in killing cancer cells. Research on antioxidants has been shown to prevent type of cancer associated with radical damage.
2) They are also known to increase gene expression of some genes which increase body's defence.
3) Studies also suggest that anti oxidants repair damaged molecules.
4) They are the natural shielders. For example falvinoids have shield effect on DNA and prevent them from the attack of ROS.
5) As it is well known fact that antioxidants have chelating effect and inhibit free radical formation.
6) They are also known to have anti inflammatory effects
7) Some antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E and polyphenols are known to boost immune effects by removing ROS.
8) Studies also suggest that they have a role in anti-aging process.
Considering all the above facts mentioned it is beneficial to us to take antioxidant rich compounds or foods. Some of the foods which are rich sources of antioxidants are
a) Fresh leafy vegetables which contain phytochemicals, which are potent antioxidants reduce inflammation and sweep out oxidants from our body. Antiocidants are also shown to have atheroprotective functions.
b) Sprouts are also rich sources of antioxidants and are also good for health
c) Fruits particularly berries like raspberries, blue berries are excellent sources of antioxidants and are known to strongly inhibit oxidants that bind DNA. And certain types of citrus fruits are also very good sources of antioxidants.
d) All types of nuts are known to contain good amounts of antioxidants and also improve heart condition.
c) Spices and herbs are known for anti cancer- effects. These include cloves, turmeric, ginger etc
d) The most popular organic green tea , contains epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a powerful catechin polyphenols known to lower heart risk.
e) Apart from the above foods, cold water fish are also a very powerful source of anti oxidants. Keeping all the above information and facts in consideration one can say that antioxidants are of utmost beneficial to us.