What Are Antioxidants And Why Do They Matter?
What’s something that melatonin, vitamin C, and CBD all have in common? If you answered that they all possess antioxidant activity, then you are correct!
Antioxidants are crucial to a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and thankfully they are abundant in the foods we eat. In addition to getting antioxidants from our diet and supplements, we also produce our own endogenous antioxidants - such as coenzyme Q10 and superoxide dismutase.
Plants and animals make antioxidants to survive on our oxygen-rich planet, to deal with ultraviolet light exposure, and to clean up waste produced by cellular metabolism. When we ingest antioxidants, our bodies use them to scavenge free radicals and inhibit oxidation.
Free radicals are molecules that lack a single electron pair in their outer electron region, which makes them highly unstable and reactive to virtually any cell. Free radicals take electrons from cells they react to which sets off a chain reaction of free radical damage.
Free radicals are byproducts of cellular metabolism and aging. We make them when we exercise, have an immune system response, as we digest food, and when we experience stress. Additionally, we are exposed to free radicals in our environment and diet – like cigarette smoke, heavy metals, cleaning agents, trans fats, and air pollution. When we have an imbalance of free radicals to antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs which contributes to poor health outcomes.
It’s worth noting that not all free radicals are inherently problematic. For example, nitric oxide is a free radical we produce, and is found abundantly in beets. Nitric oxide is involved with neural signaling and a healthy immune response, while supporting healthy blood flow and circulatory function. However, many free radicals have the capacity to cause structural damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA, which is why it’s important to ensure we are getting an assortment of antioxidants from our diet.
Antioxidants generously lend an electron to unstable free radicals, a process called reduction. Once a free radical is reduced by an antioxidant it becomes deactivated and unable to cause damage to cells. Simultaneously, the antioxidant becomes oxidized due to losing an electron. While it’s still more structurally stable than a free radical, the oxidized antioxidant relies on other antioxidants to lend it an electron again lest it become pro-oxidative. Therefore, it is important to eat a diverse array of antioxidant-rich foods and to use supplements that blend multiple antioxidants together.
The best sources of antioxidants are brightly-colored fruits and vegetables, along with pastured meat and eggs, wild caught fish, and cold-pressed plant oils. The phytonutrients that produce the bright red in tomatoes (lycopene), vibrant orange in pumpkins (carotenoids), and deep purple in elderberries (anthocyanins) are all antioxidants, along with the yellow of egg yolks (zeaxanthin) and the pink of salmon (astaxanthin).
Minerals like selenium, manganese, and vitamins E, A, and C possess antioxidant activity. Furthermore, cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, CBN, and THC, plus terpenes like linalool and beta-caryophyllene also have been shown to exhibit antioxidant activity.
Antioxidants play a vital role in maintaining optimum wellness and cellular integrity. Thankfully, it's possible to ensure you are consuming enough with a whole-food diet that emphasizes vibrant fruits and vegetables, or by taking high quality supplements like full-spectrum hemp extracts that support antioxidant activity.† As they say, “eat the rainbow.”