You’ve likely heard the term “antioxidants” uttered during a conversation about health or even seen it plastered to the front of products or supplements in the store. But what are antioxidants really? And are they really all they’re cracked up to be?
Today we’ll explore exactly what antioxidants are, how they exert their impressive health-boosting effects, and cover how you can naturally boost your levels of these incredible compounds. Let’s dive in.
What Exactly Are Antioxidants?
The term antioxidants doesn’t necessarily refer to a specific group of substances. Rather, the term antioxidant refers to a wide range of different substances that possess a specific chemical property – primarily the ability to act as an electron donor. There are hundreds of different substances that can exert antioxidant effects such as:1,2
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- Lipoic acid
- And many many more
So what exactly does it mean when we say these varying compounds serve as “an electron donor” to exert their antioxidant properties? To answer that question, let’s zoom in on exactly how antioxidants interact within our bodies.
What Do Antioxidants Do for the Body?
To understand how antioxidants work and what they do for your body, you must first understand free radicals. Let’s break down step by step what free radicals are and what they do in the body.
In simplest terms, free radicals work something like this:3
- Free radicals, also referred to as reactive oxygen species, are a class of molecules that contain an unpaired electron. This unpaired electron makes the molecule highly unstable and highly reactive.
- Your body produces a steady stream of free radicals as a natural byproduct of many cellular processes as well as in response to anything that triggers inflammation.
- While a certain level of free radicals is perfectly normal and healthy, the trouble arises when free radical levels go unchecked and begin to steadily rise.
- As these unstable molecules travel throughout your body, they have a voracious appetite for electrons in an attempt to stabilize themselves – stealing electrons from any molecules they come into contact with.
- As these free radicals strip electrons from your healthy cells, your cell’s structure and function can be radically altered. If this damage is allowed to accumulate it can cause permanent injury in a process known as oxidative stress.
- Over time, unchecked oxidative stress can lead to numerous disease states ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s’ and from cardiovascular disease to autoimmune disorders.
Now that you have an understanding of how free radicals function, let’s explore how antioxidants fit into the equation.
Free radicals are not necessarily harmful in and of themselves. They are a natural and inescapable part of our natural biology. They only become a problem when our defenses against free radicals become impaired or imbalanced.
And our primary defense system against damage-inducing free radicals is antioxidants in a process that goes like this:4
- Your body is well-accustomed to a regular influx of free radicals, so it naturally produces a plethora of antioxidants. Your body is also able to extract free radical-fighting antioxidants from certain foods.
- As these antioxidants make their way throughout your body, they come into contact with free-floating free radicals. Once they make contact, antioxidants are able to neutralize free radicals by donating electrons – stabilizing and neutralizing the highly reactive free radical molecules.
- Because antioxidants are highly stable, they are able to freely donate their electrons without becoming reactive molecules themselves – they are simply rendered inactive once they’ve neutralized free radicals.
Antioxidants’ ability to neutralize free radicals and pump the brakes on oxidative stress translates into some pretty impressive health benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Antioxidants?
Supporting your natural production of antioxidants and eating a diet full of antioxidant-boosting foods is foundational when it comes to optimizing your health. You see, an excess of free radicals and the subsequent inflammation and oxidative damage they induce is one of the root causes of just about every chronic disease known to mankind.
Chronic inflammation and cumulative oxidative damage dramatically alter the way your cells and body systems function – eventually triggering the development of disease and illness. Adequate antioxidants are crucial for:
- Healthy cellular function
- Combatting the development of chronic disease
- Preventing and mitigating inflammation
- Supporting a healthy, vibrant appearance
- Energy production
In short, adequate antioxidant levels are essential for just about every aspect of your well-being. So how can you get more of these amazing antioxidants in your life?
How Can I Get Antioxidants Naturally?
Reaping the benefits of antioxidants is best achieved by taking a two-pronged approach – limiting the generation of free radicals while simultaneously boosting antioxidant levels. Let’s look at these a little closer.
Limiting the Generation of Free Radicals
While you certainly can’t halt the production of free radicals, you can minimize their production to support a healthy balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Some things that can spike and promote free radical production include:5
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Drinking alcohol
- Chronically elevated stress levels
- Exposure to environmental toxins
By minimizing the production of unnecessary free radicals, antioxidants can more effectively do their job.
Boosting Antioxidant Levels
Some ways to naturally boost antioxidant levels include:
- Getting plenty of high-quality sleep
- Getting regular exercise
- Managing stress levels and incorporating mind-body practices like meditation
- Prioritizing and cultivating positive emotions and experiences like fun, connection, love, and purpose
- Supporting a healthy and balanced microbiome
You can also boost your intake of externally sourced antioxidants by incorporating foods like:6,7
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce
- Root veggies like carrots, yams, and sweet potatoes
- Berries like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries
- Fruits like pomegranates, oranges, and papayas
- Nuts and seeds like walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Antioxidant-rich beverages like coffee, tea, and even red wine
- High-quality animal protein like grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild-caught salmon, and quality organ meats
- Dairy products like grass-fed butter, milk, and cheese
These aren’t the only foods rich in antioxidants. To get the whole spectrum of health-boosting antioxidants it’s best to get a wide variety of diverse, whole foods. If you need some help figuring out how to incorporate more antioxidant-rich foods into your diet, head over and check out my recipe library for some inspiration.
While you can certainly get a plethora of antioxidants from your diet, you’re probably wondering if antioxidant supplements would be helpful.
What About Antioxidant Supplements?
Making lifestyle tweaks to minimize the production of free radicals and eating a healthy, well-rounded, antioxidant-rich diet is foundational. But in addition to these lifestyle adjustments, adding in some antioxidant-boosting supplements can be a simple and potent way to supercharge your antioxidant levels. Some of my favorite antioxidant-supporting supplements include:
- Glutathione Essentials: Glutathione has been dubbed “the master of antioxidants” thanks to its irreplaceable role in the body.
- ResveraMax: ResveraMax enhances antioxidant production by activating a protein known as Nrf2 which serves as the master cellular switch for antioxidant production.
- Activated Selenium: Selenium is not only an essential trace mineral but also a potent antioxidant that can provide significant protection against oxidative stress.
- BroccoBoost Plus: BroccoBoost Plus contains a concentrated dose of sulforaphane – a plant extract known to activate the expression of genes that regulate antioxidant production.
- Buffered C Caps: Vitamin C is not only an essential vitamin but also provides potent antioxidant protection, as it helps combat cellular damage from free radicals.
You can grab all these antioxidant-boosting supplements through my online store. And you can even snag 10% off your first order by clicking right here.
So, How Important Are Antioxidants Really?
Antioxidants are crucial for us to not only survive but thrive. And the good news is, that simply being intentional about creating a healthy, balanced lifestyle is hands down the best way to support ample antioxidant levels. The steps outlined in this article are a great place to start if you’re looking for ways to optimize your antioxidant levels.
And if you’re looking for more ways to cultivate a vibrantly healthy life, I’ve got you covered. Head over and browse through my blog and YouTube channel – they’re loaded with hundreds of resources full of practical, science-backed ways you can support and up-level your well-being. Or if you want to take it to the next level, I encourage you to sign up for my email newsletter so you can get my best content delivered straight to your inbox. All you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn exactly how antioxidants exert their potent health-boosting effects? What are your favorite ways to support optimal antioxidant levels? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health – PMC (nih.gov)
- Antioxidants: In Depth | NCCIH (nih.gov)
- Antioxidants | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health – PMC (nih.gov)
- Frontiers | Lifestyle, Oxidative Stress, and Antioxidants: Back and Forth in the Pathophysiology of Chronic Diseases (frontiersin.org)
- Slide show: Add antioxidants to your diet – Mayo Clinic
- Frontiers | Immune-Boosting, Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Food Supplements Targeting Pathogenesis of COVID-19 (frontiersin.org)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.