Identifying Antioxidants and Their Functions for Health

Identifying Antioxidants and Their Functions for Health

Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals and nutrients that neutralize free radicals. These free radicals are rogue cells believed to be responsible for cell mutations that can cause cancer and other chronic diseases. Not all nutrients are antioxidants, although all are necessary for optimal health. Knowing which nutrients have antioxidant properties can help people choose the best diet and vitamin supplement products to meet their specific needs.
Identifying Antioxidants and Their Functions for Health
Vitamins A, E and C
Vitamin A and E are powerful antioxidants and fat soluble vitamins. This fact means that excess amounts are stored in our liver. Vitamin C is water soluble and the body’s supply must be replenished every day because it is not stored in the body. Vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes, skin and bones while vitamin E is necessary for the development of skin cells. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of calcium and is vital for the development of healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin C also boosts the ability of the immune system to inhibit the reproduction of disease causing microbes.

Essential Minerals
Copper, zinc and selenium are antioxidant minerals that interact with vitamins to promote their actions. They are present in trace amounts in many fruits and vegetables. Fish is the best excellent source of zinc and selenium. Zinc improves immune resistance and wound healing and copper is necessary for the proper metabolism of iron. Selenium protects cell membranes and red blood cells and may aid in the prevention of cancers. A deficiency of selenium can cause premature signs of aging and dry scaly skin although the reason for this is not yet understood.

Importance of Antioxidant Carotenes
Carotenes may be part of the vitamin A group or non vitamin A nutrients, and different carotenes have specific values to the body. Beta carotene is the best known of the carotenes and is converted into vitamin A. Lutein, found in red and orange fruits and vegetables, supports eye health. The richest food source of lycopene is tomatoes. Studies conducted in the last 20 years suggest that the antioxidants lutein and lycopene, taken as supplements, may prevent the development of age related macular degeneration, a major cause of blindness in the elderly.

Phytochemicals and Micronutrients
Many micronutrients have not yet been identified, but they seem to play an important role in cell development and the prevention of disease. Included in this group of nutrients are phytochemicals, flavonoids, flavones, catechins and polyphenols. Preliminary studies suggest that phytochemicals are vital to the absorption and use of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Sources of phytochemicals include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olives and extra virgin olive oil. Red wine is also an excellent source of micronutrients.

While antioxidants are crucial to healthy cell development and the prevention of chronic disease, there is growing evidence that they require other nutrients for proper absorption and maximum benefits. The best way to balance the intake of nutrients is with a healthy diet containing a wide variety of foods. Research into the effects of specific antioxidants on certain diseases continues to be conducted by the American Cancer Society and other public and private institutions around the world.

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