During the normal metabolic activity of our bodies, a process called oxidant stress occurs. Oxidant stress is the name given to the cellular process that results in the formation of reactive by-products. These by-products are types of oxygen, or free radicals, that steal nutrients from healthy cells, essentially starving them to death. As the affected cells begin to degenerate, they release more free radicals and the process has the potential to multiply exponentially.
To counter the damaging effects of free radicals, our body uses antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and safely remove them from our system. Studies have shown that as we age, our bodies are less capable of neutralizing oxidants due to a reduction of available antioxidants. It is generally accepted that this reduction in antioxidants begins somewhere between 28 and 30 years of age, and the older we get, the less antioxidants we produce. The resulting cellular breakdown from increased oxidant activity is a primary contributor to the aging process and disease state.
Augmenting our bodies with an adequate supply of antioxidants is essential to maintaining healthy cells and slowing the aging process. While there are antioxidants in certain foods we eat, their overall contribution is usually not enough. Taking vitamins and supplements daily that contain antioxidants are a good way to maintain cellular health, stave off disease and slow the aging process.
A good daily multi-vitamin/mineral supplement is beyond optional with the stress-filled lifestyles of today. To perform the normal functions of our bodies, they need nutrient replenishment each day. Most people do not eat a balanced diet and therefore are woefully deficient in the necessary nutrients. And even those who try to eat a balanced diet are not getting the nutrient-rich foods they once were. The soil has been depleted and contaminated with toxic materials, and the meat we consume contains hormones. Unless one can eat ‘organic’ vegetables, fruit and meat, we are still getting fewer nutrients than we need to maintain good health.
There are many vitamins, minerals, enzymes and herbs that act as antioxidants or aid in the production of them such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamins B2, B3, and B6, Coenzyme Q10, bilberry, grape seed, pine bark, ginkgo biloba, selenium, zinc, copper, and many others. The best way to make sure you are covering all the bases in the neutralization of free radicals is to supplement with a wide variety of antioxidants. Many supplements have been developed containing a blend of antioxidants.
The biggest class of antioxidants is flavonoids. Researchers have identified some 5,000 different flavonoids in fruits and vegetables, explains Ronald Prior, PhD, a chemist and nutritionist with the USDA’s Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock, Arkansas. He authored the groundbreaking antioxidant measure study. Prior’s study found beans to be the clear winners – one-half cup of red beans yields 13,727 antioxidants; red kidney beans have 13,259; pinto beans, 11,864; and black beans, 4,191.
Among the other non-bean antioxidant stars Prior’s research uncovered include:
- Steamed artichoke hearts
- Baked russet potatoes
- Raw spinach
- Baked sweet potatoes
- Raw asparagus
- Cooked red cabbage
- Cooked yellow onions
- Cooked broccoli
- Raw tomatoes
Just because these vegetables are packed with antioxidants, don’t overlook other vegetables and fruits. All the others have their own special benefits. Each has its own unique nutritional footprint. Some have more fiber or different arrays of vitamins and minerals. By mixing them up, you’re going to enhance what you’re getting nutritionally. The same is true with an antioxidant supplement – variety is key.
The take-home message about antioxidant supplements is this – they are not meant to replace nutritional food, but to add to a well-balanced diet rich in foods that contain antioxidants and nutrients that we need to be healthy.