The Five Types of Antioxidants & When to Use Them
We’ve all heard the word “antioxidant” thrown around often in the world of health and nutrition, but most people aren’t exactly sure what this refers to (which makes sense, because it’s actually pretty complicated).
You might even take an antioxidant supplement, or buy products touting their antioxidant benefits. In this article, we’ll break down what an antioxidant is in actual, human terms, and take a look at some of the key players.
What is an Antioxidant?
All matter consists of atoms, and atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
When atoms join forces, they become molecules. The human body is made up of many substances such as DNA, genes, and proteins, all of which are essentially molecules with thousands of atoms linked together. Chemical reactions occur when these molecules are either broken down or built up, and this is our metabolism.
If a molecule in the process of change loses an electron that it shouldn’t, this molecule can become a free radical. This is another word you’ve probably heard before, and it refers to unstable, electrically charged molecules that react and damage other molecules, such as DNA.
Antioxidants react with these free radicals by taking the place of the missing electron, neutralizing its charge and keeping it from causing harm to the body.
Pretty amazing, right?
What Causes Free Radicals?
Free radicals are there for a reason, but when we have too many of them and too few antioxidants, we can get into trouble. This trouble is called oxidative stress, and it can be brought on by many common environmental and lifestyle factors such as smoking (or second-hand smoke), a diet high in inflammatory fats and sugar, alcohol, toxins, over-exercise, chronic stress and lack of antioxidants in the diet.
Free radicals are there for a reason, but when we have too many of them and too few antioxidants, we can get into trouble.
There are five types of antioxidants and they all have good but slightly different benefits. Let’s look at those antioxidants, and when to use them.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
This key antioxidant is a fatty acid made by the body, and it plays a key role in energy production and metabolism.
Studies show that alpha lipoic acid is essential for reducing inflammation, which is tied to conditions such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease (among others). This antioxidant is excellent for general use and especially to support healthy blood sugar levels.
Astaxanthin is part of the carotenoid family of antioxidants and has powerful health benefits.
This is the compound that gives salmon its pink color and has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease by increasing your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reducing oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Astaxanthin might even help with anti-aging.
Lutein is a potent antioxidant that is found especially in eggs, but also in green, leafy veggies.
Research shows that lutein plays an important role in protection against eye diseases. This antioxidant is particularly important if you suffer from poor night vision, as it can help to improve vision in low contrast situations.
Also known as pine bark extract, pycnogenol can be the perfect support during menopause.
It has been shown to relieve menopausal symptoms and reduce stress, and might even support PMS symptoms. Pycnogenol has also been linked to healthy circulation and blood pressure.
Resveratrol is most well known as the healthy component of red wine, but it can also be found in blueberries, grapes, and peanuts.
It is a powerful anti-inflammatory antioxidant and can be hugely beneficial for those with heart disease and other conditions. Don’t over-do it on the wine, though, as too much alcohol can definitely undermine resveratrol’s health benefits.
Make sure to reap the important benefits of antioxidants by eating a diet rich in dark green and bright colored vegetables and fruits, and supplement as necessary. Now that you have a better understanding of just how important antioxidants are, there’s no reason not to.
Shop for all five types of antioxidants at Vitamin World!
Rachel Fiske is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in Berkeley, California. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Rachel focuses on issues of weight management, GI problems, hormonal imbalances, fatigue and more via a whole foods diet and lifestyle changes.