Antioxidants are molecules that interact with free radicals to secure them and avert damage that they could cause. Without the counteraction of antioxidants over time the damage to cells caused by free radicals can become irreversible. Of course, it is more efficient to not allow this damage to be done in the first place, because with time cells start to lose their ability to regenerate – according to one theory on aging.
However, studies have found that reasons why you should supplement your diet with antioxidants go far beyond only delaying the aging process. The same things that bring us joy and happiness – physical activity, fresh air, positive thinking and antioxidants – also improve the wellbeing and lifespan of our cells. Antioxidants protect us from heart disease by preventing oxidation of low density lipoproteins, a.k.a. bad cholesterol. Oxidised cholesterol damages arteries. Hundreds of studies have linked use of antioxidants with delaying development of cancer (prostate, colon, lung) and other degenerative diseases, including slowing development of Alzheimer’s, protecting against macular degeneration (main cause of blindness) and cataract.
Italian nutritionists have now confirmed previous suspicions – mass-produced fruits and vegetables contain significantly less antioxidants than organic produce. Having compared a range of organically grown fruits and vegetables, as well as milk and red wine the Italians concluded that organic products have a much higher antioxidant value (ORAC2 value) than mass-produced products. Furthermore, the level of antioxidants increased significantly quicker for the group using organic products. This is yet another confirmation of the major modern day gap between free radicals and antioxidants which are their only antidote.
It is difficult to reduce the sources of free radicals, but the amount of antioxidants that we consume is entirely up to us! The most important antioxidants consumed daily are vitamins E and C and carotenoids. The most powerful antioxidant known so far is astaxanthin, which is a carotenoid, obtained from microalgae. There are other better known, but less effective carotenoids: beta-carotene (found in bright orange carrots), lycopene (found in red tomatoes) and zeaxanthin (found in bright yellow corn).
Astaxanthin is the most powerful free radical scavenger of all antioxidant molecules ever discovered and studied; it is 65 times stronger than vitamin C, 14 times stronger than vitamin E, 54 times stronger than beta-carotene, 20-50 times stronger than synthetic astaxanthin.3
2. ORAC value – oxygen radical absorbance capacity. Method of measuring antioxidant capacities in foodstuffs.
3. OXYGEN FREE RADICAL SCAVENGING ABILITIES OF VITAMINS C, E, b-CAROTENE, PYCNOGENOL, GRAPE SEED PROANTHOCYANIDIN EXTRACT AND ASTAXANTHINS IN VITRO. Debasis Bagchi, Ph.D. Pharmacy Sciences, Creighton University School of Health Sciences, June 2001