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What Are Antioxidants? Plus, Why They're Important as We Age
Antioxidants, also called free-radical scavengers, are substances that protect our body cells and DNA from harmful free radicals. Our body produces free radicals as a by-product of many processes and as a result of exposure to some substances (such as air pollutants, cigarette smoke, etc.).
Not all free radicals are harmful. They are required during various processes, but they become damaging when they exceed the standard amount (a condition called oxidative stress). In these cases, they may cause diseases like diabetes, cancer, hypertension, arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and other age-related conditions.
Antioxidants neutralize the harmful free radicals, protect the body from the conditions mentioned above, and boost overall health. There are hundreds of antioxidants present in our body. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, manganese, and selenium are popular examples.
Sources of Antioxidants
Antioxidants can be obtained from both natural and artificial sources. Plant-based foods, particularly vegetables and fruits, are natural sources of antioxidants. Foods rich in antioxidants are also called "super-foods". They include berries, eggs, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
Let's see what the common natural sources of famous antioxidants are.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A is one of the most important antioxidants. It plays a crucial role in various processes. It helps in improving vision, heart health, and immunity. Milk, egg yolks, carrots, liver, and sweet potatoes are common sources.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is another popular antioxidant. It is involved in repairing damaged tissues and the overall growth of the body. It maintains skin, bone, and cartilage health. Fruits and vegetables are rich Vitamin C sources. Citrus fruits, strawberries, potatoes, broccoli, blackcurrants, fish, poultry, and beef are considered excellent sources of Vitamin C.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant helps different organs to function properly and also protects from various illnesses. It is abundantly present in almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, beet greens, pumpkins, wheat germ oil, mangos, broccoli, etc. If you want to increase Vitamin E intake, make its natural sources a part of your every meal.
And what about the artificial sources of antioxidants? They can be found in the form of supplements available in your local pharmacy. Natural sources should generally be considered the primary sources of antioxidants. Artificial sources should only be used upon recommendation from your doctor.
Older Adults and Antioxidants
Older adults tend to be at a higher risk of developing diseases or infections. This can result from a weaker immune system, low activity levels, low-quality diets, or many other reasons. However, with a few lifestyle changes, people of any age can improve their health and lower the risk of disease.
Studies show that a balanced intake of antioxidants may protect older adults from age-related diseases and increase life expectancy. Let's see how exactly antioxidants can improve your health.
Health Benefits of Antioxidants for Older Adults
- Cancer Prevention
Free-radicals tend to damage cell DNA and cause cancer. By neutralizing them with the help of antioxidants before they get a chance to damage the DNA, one can help to prevent cancer. Some studies also support this view. However, the results of studies are mixed. More research is needed to clearly understand the effect of antioxidants on cancer prevention.
- Protect Eyes from Age-Related Diseases
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease more common in people over the age of 60. It occurs when the central part of the eye retina wears down with age. It can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Taking antioxidants in a balanced amount can help a person prevent macular degeneration. People who have already developed this disease may notice an improvement in vision due to the increased intake of antioxidants.
A cataract is another eye disease that occurs more commonly in older people. Stats show that one out of every five older adults over the age of 65 develops a cataract. In this disease, the eye gets clouded, which negatively impacts overall vision.
Antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E can decrease the chances of acquiring cataracts in older people. They may also reduce the progression of the disease if they are taken in a moderate amount.
- Lower Risks of Heart Diseases
Heart diseases are common in older adults and are a common cause of death as well. Some studies show that taking antioxidants may improve heart health and increase your life expectancy. However, the results related to the effects of antioxidants on heart health are mixed. More research needs to be conducted in this regard.
Some studies showed that people who ate more fruits and vegetables had healthier hearts and overall health. Researchers believed that it was because of the presence of a high amount of antioxidants in those foods. However, when the effect of antioxidant supplements was studied, no significant results were found.
- Improve Cognitive Health
It is commonly seen that cognitive health starts to decline as we age. Taking antioxidants may help you improve your cognitive abilities through aging. Some studies have found that people above the age of 65 have better cognitive health due to the intake of beta-carotene supplements. However, some researches show no effect of antioxidant supplements on cognitive abilities. More research should be done to evaluate the influence more clearly.
Free radicals can cause many diseases in older people. Antioxidants neutralize such damaging free radicals and help in providing the needed protection to older adults. Fruits and vegetables are the best natural sources of antioxidants, so they should be made a part of every meal to increase the intake of natural antioxidants.
Antioxidants from artificial sources have shown a low role in improving overall health. So, more research is needed to be done to evaluate their impact correctly. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are planning to take antioxidant supplements.