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Wellness 22/02/2021

The power of antioxidants

Antioxidant... Now that's an almost magical word! These molecules found in our food and beauty products are said to be real health allies. Antioxidants are said to be "youth factors", "anti-rust" or "anti-aging", because their active compounds play an important role in protecting our cells. Why are antioxidants essential to health? What is oxidation and why do we absolutely have to seek anti-oxidation? How do they protect our body? Explanation on the power of these essential compounds.

What is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are molecules capable of acting against oxidation caused by harmful substances called free radicals. To protect itself from the toxic effects of these free radicals, the body has developed antioxidant defense systems composed of enzymes, vitamins, trace elements and proteins. But when oxidative stress is too great, it is essential to provide our bodies with new sources of antioxidants through the diet. Antioxidants present in food are mainly vitamins A, C and E, polyphenols and certain minerals. 

What are free radicals?

The oxygen we breathe causes many chemical reactions in our bodies, including the production of unbalanced atoms known as free radicals. These substances are therefore unavoidable, but the body must protect itself against them because they are capable of initiating "oxidative stress", i.e. an acceleration of the body's aging process.

Free radicals at the origin of many diseases

As long as free radicals are in small quantities in the body, they remain harmless because they help the body fight microbes and viruses. But when the body is overwhelmed and can no longer fight them, it finds itself in a state of stress, called "oxidative stress". The free radicals then spread rapidly to neighbouring molecules, triggering an oxidation process. This oxidation will destroy all the healthy cells and lead to chain reactions that can lead to certain pathologies or diseases, such as :

  • Weakening of the immune system

  • Decreased brain function

  • Cardiovascular diseases

  • Age-related degenerative diseases (atherosclerosis, arthritis, dementia)

  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson, Alzheimer)

  • Eye diseases (macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma)

  • By attacking collagen, free radicals are responsible for the formation of wrinkles


Where do free radicals come from?

From the inside: our body

As we have seen, the main atomic compound in our body is oxygen. During cellular respiration, a series of chemical reactions occur that are necessary for our body, such as cell division or detoxification. But these physiological processes will also generate free radicals.


From the outside: our environment

The production of free radicals is increased by external factors, such as :

  • Tobacco

  • Pollution

  • Alcohol

  • Stress and anxiety

  • Aging

  • Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals

  • Heavy metal poisoning (mercury, lead)

  • Irradiation (UV, X-rays, etc.)


What is the role of antioxidants?

Antioxidants prevent or slow down the harmful effects of free radicals by neutralizing them when they are in excess in the body. They act as a kind of "shield" by preventing free radicals from developing harmful reactions against our cells.

The role of antioxidants is threefold:

  1. They prevent the formation of free radicals

  2. They eliminate them when there are too many

  3. They repair damaged cells

How do antioxidants fight free radicals?

The actions of free radicals and antioxidants can be summarized by the cut apple and the lemon. Indeed, when an apple is cut, it quickly turns brown in the open air. In fact, it oxidizes because it is attacked by free radicals. If lemon juice had been poured over the cut flesh, it would not have turned brown so quickly. The vitamin C in the lemon is an antioxidant that works for both the fruit and our bodies!

By neutralizing excess free radicals in the body, antioxidants block their production to prevent premature aging of our cells and promote the natural regeneration process. Antioxidants therefore have a role in protecting the body against the harmful effects of free radicals.

The two sources of antioxidants

Every day, our bodies use antioxidants to fight free radicals. But where do these antioxidants come from?

1. Our organization

When our diet is balanced, our body produces its own antioxidants to fight free radicals. Hence the importance of a varied diet rich in antioxidant nutrients.

2. Our diet

Our bodies can also get them from food. The main antioxidant nutrients are :

  • Vitamins A, C, E

  • Trace elements: zinc, iodine, selenium, manganese

  • Other nutrients, such as polyphenols, lycopene, flavonoids, beta-carotene, lutein

The best natural food sources of antioxidants are:

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Fish, seafood, meat

  • Whole grains, legumes, green tea, some spices

  • Cold-pressed vegetable oils

What about food supplements?

Eating an antioxidant diet is not always easy. Even though there are many food sources, it means eating large amounts of fruits, vegetables and other antioxidant foods every day. To supplement your intake, you can resort to food supplements. From plants, fruits or micronutrients, choose those rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, catechins, polyphenols, zinc, selenium and manganese,