Antioxidants are the compounds which are found in various foods and the main function is to neutralize unstable molecules, popularly known as free radicals, released in the body through the process of oxidation.

Functions of Antioxidants

Since they are capable of counterbalancing the effect of the unstable molecules, antioxidants assist in the protection of cells (seen as the origin of cancer, premature aging, and other types of related health conditions). Due to global health concerns, athletes have recently shown great interest in consuming foods that contain antioxidants. This is attributed to the mere fact that these foods are thought to improve performance and allow for faster recovery from workouts.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are basically compounds which are found in various foods and the main function is to neutralize unstable molecules, known as free radicals, which are released in the body through the process of oxidation. Free radicals have been largely associated with diseases, such as cancer, liver complications, and heart disease. In fact, free radicals cause errors in the process of DNA replication leading to the production of abnormal DNA that may cause cancer. Food obtained from plants, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains are the major sources of antioxidants. Many studies are aimed at understanding the importance of antioxidants for health generally and for cancer prevention specifically.

Other Effects of Antioxidants on General Health

It is believed that antioxidants play a vital role in slowing the process of aging and they also provide protection against stroke and heart disease; however, this has yet to be proven. Thus, according to the public health, it is too early to draw conclusions regarding the use of antioxidant diet supplements as a way of preventing diseases. Ongoing studies have indicated that, in the next few years, more light will be shed on the matter concerning antioxidants and health. Until then, the only advice is to ensure that you eat about five servings of vegetables or fruits and include supplements in your diet along with regular exercise every day.

The Benefits of Antioxidants

During the interaction of certain types of molecules with oxygen, unpaired numbers of electrons are being formed in the body called radicals. These radicals, which are highly charged, begin to exhibit successive reaction much like dominoes. The likely danger is when the radicals react with vital components of cells like the cell membrane or the DNA. This can cause the cells to malfunction or completely die. To avert this problem, the body employs antioxidants as its defence system. Thus, since antioxidants can safely interrelate with the free radicals and stop their chain reaction activities before any of the important molecules are affected, they can be used to remedy or prevent certain diseases.

In the body, there are different types of enzymes that are fed by free radicals; the standard vitamin (micro-nutrient) antioxidants are comprised of beta carotene, and vitamin E and C. In addition, selenium, which is a metal in nature, is also critically important for the proper functioning of one of the antioxidant systems in the body and it is sometimes placed in this group. It is clear that these micro-nutrients are not manufactured in the body and therefore they must be included in the diet.

Vitamin E

Food rich in Vitamin E include nuts, vegetables, whole grains, apricots, fortified cereals, and fish oils. The RDA-recommended daily allowance varies from one gender to other; for men 15 IU/day; women 12 IU/day.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Vitamin C can be found in green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, cantaloupe and strawberries. The daily recommended allowance is 60 mg and anything above 2000 mg may result in negative side effects for certain people.

Beta-Carotene, a precursor to Retinal (Vitamin A)

Beta-carotene is found in egg yolk, liver, butter, carrot, milk, broccoli, tomato, peach, yam, squash, grains, and cantaloupe. Since beta-carotene is easily transformed to vitamin A by the body, there is actually no set requirement. However, the RDA is simply expressed as “RE”. A point to note is that there are no antioxidant properties in vitamin A and if taken in excess amounts, it can cause toxic effects in the body.

Recent Evidence of the Effects of Antioxidants on Cancer Risks

According to a proven epidemiologic research, there is a risk reduction in the rate of cancer in people who have diets which include vegetables and fruits. The theory is that the antioxidants contained in these foods protect the body against cancer. Although previous studies have not clearly defined the effects of diet supplements containing antioxidants on the risk reduction of cancer development, currently scientists have intensified their research on this subject. In a study that featured a male smoker cancer victim on an antioxidant diet versus another who did not take the supplements, the results were confusing as there was an increased rate of cancer. It is not yet clear as to why this happened but it raises concern that when antioxidants are not used well, they can lead to adverse health effects.

Exercises plus an Antioxidant-Rich Diet is the Key

It is believed that engaging in endurance exercises enhances the utilization of oxygen in the body by 10-20 times that used during rest periods. As a result, the amount of free radicals produced is increased. This raises concern about the dangers the tissues and muscles are exposed to by free radicals during endurance exercising. However, various concepts have come up and indicate exercising regularly improves the antioxidant defence system and guards against the free radicals that are induced by exercise. Therefore, this shows the ability of the body to adapt to various exercise demands. The changes will occur gradually and so it may take some time to realize the results.