Recently while attending a late afternoon business meeting at a coffee shop I chose to sip on an iced matcha latte rather than a traditional cup of Joe. This beautiful green drink made of finely ground green tea leaves spurred a conversation, and a curiosity, about the health benefits of antioxidants.
As a health coach part of my job is to find science-based information whenever a client needs it. This usually leads to a few hours scouring over medical journals, learning how to pronounce new words, followed by learning the definition of the words, and finally putting it all together so that it makes sense to me and most importantly, to my client! I have to admit that I rather enjoy the process and this week I found myself immersed in antioxidant literature. I temporarily checked out of my mentoring/motivator role as a health coach and mentally donned a white lab coat and began to envision myself as a chemist.
Every minute of the day our bodies are fighting free radicals, or oxidants, which damage our cells. In our bodies free radicals enter from outside sources in the form of pollution that includes cigarette smoke, pesticides, and sunlight. Surprisingly, some of these free radicals are produced by our bodies when we exert high amounts of energy from athletic activities like running or lifting weights. Free radicals can also form when converting the food we eat into energy.
Free radicals are molecules that are missing one or more electrons. To compensate for the loss, these molecules steal from healthy ones and that’s when the real damage begins. This process is called oxidative stress and leads to inflammation which is a major factor in the progression of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration, and numerous neurological diseases. Imagine a small scratch on your vehicle. If it is not taken care of your vehicle will start to rust and over time will spread over a large area. This is basically how oxidative stress affects your body.
To protect our body from the damage of free radicals we need antioxidants to protect our cells from the damage that occurs. Antioxidants have the ability to give molecules damaged by free radicals the electron it needs to be healthy without sacrificing their own health. Some antioxidants are on a mission to sweep out pollutants that cause oxidative stress before it occurs while still others can cause cancer cells to self-destruct. It’s amazing that all of this is going on while we are posting on Instagram or sending a Tweet!
There are a variety of antioxidants that are produced within our bodies, as well as in food, that promote specific healthy functions.
· Glutathione, (gloota-thigh- own) is a super antioxidant that is made both by the body as well as produced in some foods. Made up of three amino acids, cysteine, glycine, and glutamine, glutathione helps your body maintain a healthy gut so that more nutrients are absorbed. Your body makes glutathione but unfortunately aging, in addition to a poor diet, affects its production. To make sure you are getting enough glutathione add a variety of these great foods: asparagus, onions, kale, collards, and watercress. Foods that have shown to stimulate the body’s production of this super antioxidant are turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cauliflower, broccoli, parsley, Brussel sprouts, beets, cabbage, and garlic.
· Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is the only antioxidant made in our bodies that can cross the blood- brain barrier; this barrier keeps bad stuff from entering and causing damage to the brain. ALA is highly beneficial for people suffering with Alzheimer’s and other neurological disease. ALA also regenerates other antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and glutathione when it becomes used up. You can find ALA in spinach, broccoli, peas, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseed to name a few.
· CoQ10 is used by every cell in the body and is important because it protects against free radicals, provides energy to cells, and supports healthy cardiovascular, immune, and nervous system health. CoQ10 is broken down into its simplest form called ubiquinone where it becomes most beneficial to our body. You can find CoQ10 in a variety of foods that include strawberries, cauliflower, broccoli, sesame seeds, pistachios, and boiled eggs; fish that include salmon, herring, and mackerel. Coq10 is also found in chicken and beef.
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in color are also packed with antioxidants.
· Resveratrol is found in grapes, cocoa, and red wine. This antioxidant can cross the blood-brain barrier and provides greater protection for the brain and nervous system. It has a youthful property that can lower blood pressure, promote heart and blood vessel health, and inhibit the spread of certain cancers.
· Carotenoids give foods their vibrant color and come in the forms of these antioxidants: lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, astaxanthin, vitamins C, and E. Of these, astaxanthin, is the only one that can cross both the blood- brain barrier and the blood-retina barrier as well. This gives supreme protection for eye health. Astaxanthin is most commonly found in salmon and attributes to the pink color. When you combine salmon with foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, and anything yellow, orange, or red) and your eyes will have a bright future!
Here are more sources of antioxidant rich foods that you can incorporate into your diet:
· Goji berries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, pecans, hazelnuts, organic green tea, matcha, coffee, artichokes, kidney beans
Digging into these tasty, beautiful foods are far more potent than taking antioxidant supplements. Some studies on antioxidant supplements have ended prematurely due to the negative health effects on participants and are not the best source to obtain these vital nutrients for your body.
Antioxidants are a vital part of maintaining a healthy life and there are a variety of ways to incorporate them into your day. Whether it's through a iced matcha latte or a full coarse meal, you're sure to enjoy the benefits. The information given here spoke about the internal benefits of antioxidants and your health. When you are healthy on the inside, it shows on the outside! Good health is dependent on a balance of a diet high in fruits & vegetables, moderate exercise, quality sleep, and proper management of stress. Together, this combination can keep you on a path of feeling your best!
If you are stuck and need help finding balance in your life, please contact me. Take advantage of a complimentary 30 minute consultation and find out how Au Courant Health, LLC can help you meet and maintain your wellness goals.
Cancer.gov-Antioxidant Fact Sheet
National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health-Antioxidants: In Depth
Dr. Mercola - The Ultimate Guide to Antioxidants
Immune Health Science - Glutathione Foods