Antioxidants are phytochemicals and other nutrients that protect and repair our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that react with essential molecules of our body, including DNA, fat and proteins. These free radicals are formed as part of our metabolism and by environmental factors, such as smoking, pollution, pesticides and radiation. Antioxidants help to prevent the damage of our cells from free radicals that is associated with conditions such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Antioxidants are also vital in boosting our immune system.
The immune system monitors our inner body environment for anything that is abnormal and unusual, such as viruses, germs and free radicals. When these harmful substances are detected, the immune system initiates the appropriate defense mechanism. Antioxidants act as our body's soldiers to defend us against these harmful invaders.
How Antioxidants Fight Free Radicals
When an antioxidant comes across a free radical, it gives up an electron to satisfy the free radical, which stops the damage the free radical would have caused. This creates another free radical out of the antioxidant. The cycle of free radicals is ceased because the newly created free radical made from the antioxidant is much weaker and is not likely to continue to cause further harm.
One of the best ways to keep a strong immune system is to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet. This is because these foods contain immune-boosting antioxidants. Since free radicals interfere with your immune system's response to things such as the cold or flu, a diet rich in antioxidants will fight off the damage by keeping your immune system strong.
Three Major Sources of Antioxidants
The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. Supplementation with vitamins C, E and beta-carotene increase the activation of cells to protect immune responses to certain environmental sources of free radicals. These vitamins are found in color-rich fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli. The rich colors to look for in vegetables and fruits are green, orange, purple and yellow. These vegetables should be eaten raw or only lightly cooked to prevent the loss of the vital antioxidants and vitamins found naturally in these foods.
Foods rich in beta-carotene include:
- Sweet Potatoes
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Foods rich in vitamin E include:
- Swiss Chard
- Nuts and seeds
It can be a challenge to incorporate all the necessary antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables that our bodies require to fight off free radicals and boost our immune system. Supplementation is an option when busy schedules make it difficult to ensure fruit and vegetable intake. These can be quite helpful, although there is no match for the vitamins and minerals found naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables.