We hear a lot about free radicals and antioxidants. These are common topics in health content and product ads. But, what exactly are free radicals and antioxidants, and what do they do? In simple terms, free radicals are molecules that can damage our cells from exposure over time. Antioxidants, on the other hand, stop these molecules from reacting with body cells and causing harm. While free radicals have always existed in nature, human activities that cause environmental pollution and stress have increased their availability. Because of this, it is important to understand how free radicals affect our bodies. It’s even more important to know how to use antioxidants to avoid their harmful effects.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are molecules with a single, unpaired electron in their outer shell. Electrons want to be paired, so an unpaired electron makes these molecules unstable and highly reactive. This reactivity allows them to easily cause damage to other molecules in the body like DNA, proteins, and lipids. Free radicals form naturally in the body from cellular metabolism. When they come from outside sources however, they can end up being abundant or excessive. These sources include things like environmental pollution, radiation, and cigarette smoke.
Free Radicals and Your Immune System
Your immune system works by protecting the body against foreign organisms like viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can cause illness. Immune cells recognize invaders and ideally attack them before they cause any significant damage.
Free radicals can damage cells in your immune system, resulting in immune weakness or deficiency. They do this by either directly damaging body cells, or causing inflammation that can lead to further conditions. For example, when free radicals react with DNA molecules in immune cells, the DNA can become mutated or dysfunctional. When free radicals cause inflammation due to their reactivity with body cells, this inflammation can encourage the development of chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.
Although free radicals can significantly impair your immune system, it is important to note that immune function can also be compromised by factors like stress, poor nutrition, and exposure to or consumption of toxins.
What Are Antioxidants and How Do They Work?
While free radicals have a single, unpaired electron looking for another, antioxidants are molecules that have a single electron available to donate. When an antioxidant electron pairs with the electron of a free radical, antioxidants effectively neutralize the free radicals. Once free radicals are stabilized they can no longer damage other cells in the body.
Benefits of Consuming Antioxidants
Consuming dietary antioxidants has many benefits for your health. Antioxidants help to reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to many chronic diseases. They can also improve immune function, helping your body fight off infections and illnesses.
Consuming antioxidants can have anti-aging effects, as they help to protect cells from damage caused by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is often caused by pollutants or UV rays on the skin. This results in dryness, wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and discoloration.
Antioxidants also positively affect heart health, as they can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. They may also help to improve blood sugar control, which is essential for preventing diabetes.
Common Antioxidants Found in Foods
There are many different types of antioxidants found in food, each with its own unique health benefits. Here are some common antioxidants found in foods:
Found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, and bell peppers. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help boost immune function and protect cells from free radical damage.
Found in nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. Vitamin E helps to protect cells from oxidative stress and environmental damage. It may help lower the risk of heart disease.
Found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens, beta-carotene is a type of antioxidant carotenoid. It helps protect cells and supports eye health.
Found in tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit, lycopene can help to protect against certain types of cancer. It may also support heart health.
Found in nuts, seafood, and whole grains, selenium is a mineral that acts as an antioxidant to help with cell protection.
Found in berries, cherries, and grapes, anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They may also support brain health.
Found in red wine, grapes, and berries, resveratrol may have anti-aging effects and also support heart health.
Do Topical Antioxidants Work for Anti-Aging?
Another popular method for employing antioxidants is topically on the skin. Environmental pollutants and UV rays that bombard your skin with free radicals can cause damage over time. Using skincare products with antioxidant ingredients like vitamin C can help protect the skin and reduce signs of damage like wrinkles, dryness, and discoloration.
Can Antioxidants Support Lung Health?
One area where antioxidants may be particularly beneficial is in supporting lung health. Lungs are sensitive to environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke and air pollution. Constant exposure can cause damage to lung cells. This damage can eventually lead to health problems like inflammation, respiratory infections, and even lung cancer.
Studies have shown consuming foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, may help reduce the risk of lung disease and improve lung function. For example, one study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found people who ate more fruits and vegetables had better lung function. Another showed antioxidants might be a helpful therapeutic avenue to reduce inflammation in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Specific antioxidants have been shown to benefit lung health including vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and selenium. These antioxidants help protect lung cells from stress, reduce inflammation, and support immune function to prevent cell damage. Antioxidants essentially acting as lung detoxifiers.
In addition to consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, it’s important to make necessary lifestyle changes to support lung health. Quitting smoking and avoiding air toxins and environmental pollutants, as well as protecting yourself from illnesses that affect the lungs, are essential steps to ensure lung health.
How Can I Increase My Antioxidant Intake to Support Overall Health?
Consuming antioxidants as part of a healthy, well-rounded diet can benefit your health and well-being. Be sure to include plenty of antioxidant-rich foods in your daily meals. Consider antioxidant supplements to complement your diet. Whether you’re looking for a general antioxidant boost or hope to support a specific body system, antioxidant supplements are an excellent option. If you struggle with lung health or simply want to learn more about how to clean out your lungs naturally, check out Dejia Harmony’s Respiratory Detox Supplement, a lung detoxification drink, for complete lung health.