Antioxidants Food Sources Benefits And Side Effects

Antioxidants Food Sources Benefits And Side Effects

Antioxidants are substances which prevent or delay cellular damage caused by free radicals. They are naturally found in many fruits and vegetables, and can also be found in synthetic supplements. Since they are present in sufficiently high amounts in natural foods, a dietary supplement is rarely required.

Beta-carotene, Vitamin E and Vitamin C rich foods are the best sources of antioxidants that you can add to your diet. These sources have been discussed in greater details in this article, along with benefits, role and actions of antioxidants.

Antioxidants Food Sources Benefits And Side Effects

  • Antioxidant tea
  • Side effects of antioxidants
  • What are antioxidants and free radicals
  • Antioxidant foods
  • Antioxidants benefits

Antioxidant tea

Certain types of tea are rich in flavonoids, which have high antioxidant properties. Regular consumption of these teas is likely to reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Four types of teas namely white tea, green tea, black and oolong tea are highly beneficial.

White tea is made from fresh young tea leaves, while oolong and black tea are slightly processed and exposed to light and heat. Green tea contains pro-oxidants and antioxidants and may have a protective role against free radicals.

To make green tea, leaves are quickly boiled or heated before the oxidation of catechins takes place. You can simply add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves in hot, boiled water and allow it to sit for two to three minutes before straining and consumption.

Side effects of antioxidants

While the benefits of antioxidants are plenty, they can also be harmful when taken in excessive amounts or through artificial supplements. It is recommended to consult with your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements. 

Side effects will be different depending on the type of antioxidants consumed. You are also advised to consult a physician if any of the following side effects are experienced:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Dry skin
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Bleeding
  • Rash
  • Blurred vision
  • Any severe reaction like wheezing, itching, rash, difficulty in breathing, difficulty in swallowing, etc
  • Tingling or numbing sensations


What are antioxidants and free radicals

A free radical is a molecule which contains an extra unpaired electron that makes it highly reactive to form a pair. To achieve this, it actively reacts with the body cells causing damage to them. This damage often called oxidative damage is harmful to various organs and systems of the human body and is a major cause of several diseases.

Free radicals are derived from normal metabolic processes of the body, or from exposure to certain factors like environmental pollutants, chemicals, pesticides smoke or damaging rays like UV rays, X rays, etc. They are also formed in higher amounts in response to an unhealthy diet excessively consisting of junk foods.

They actively react with body cells, particularly those present in the skin and are responsible for premature ageing of the skin and wrinkles. Free radicals also cause substantial damage to the hair, which may be reflected as hair graying or progressing hair loss with age.

Age-related alopecia (bald patches caused due to hair loss) is also potentiated by damage from oxidative stress. Thus, it has been rightly said that oxidative stress plays a major role in the process of ageing.

The other effects caused by free radicals on the human body include the following. 

  • Inflammatory disorders (disorders related to pain, swelling or redness) like arthritis, Lupus erythematosus (Read more: Joint pain)
  • Cardiovascular disorders like atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, ischemia, hypertension (Read more: Angina treatment)
  • Gastrointestinal disorders like gastric ulcers
  • Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Neurological disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Vision-related disorders like cataract, blurred vision, vision loss. (Read more: Night Blindness)
  • Diabetes

While the formation of free radicals is an inevitable process, one can modify the body’s response towards them, by improving the amounts of antioxidants in your diet.

Antioxidants present in certain food items offer an extra electron to free radicals which helps them form a pair, thereby reducing their chemical instability. Antioxidants thus have the potential to reduce the activity of free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to body cells, which makes them an essential constituent of everyday diet. 

Antioxidant foods

Antioxidants are present in sufficiently large amounts in the following foods. One can increase their amounts to derive the maximum health benefits. It is, however, important to consult with your nutritionist or physician to guide you on the best choices for you.

Vitamin C rich foods: 

  • Orange
  • Lemon
  • Mango
  • Berries
  • Gooseberry
  • Kiwi
  • Leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli


Vitamin E rich foods

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Fish oil
  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Lean meat
  • Liver


Vitamin A rich foods

  • Pigmented vegetables like yellow, green and red capsicum, as well as carrot
  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli 
  • Papaya
  • Apricot
  • Milk and milk products (Read more: Vitamin A sources)


Other sources of antioxidants

  • Eggplants
  • Grapes
  • Onions, leeks and garlic
  • Nuts like walnuts, peanuts (Read more: Fox nut uses)
  • Tea and green tea (Read more: Coffee benefits)
  • Apples
  • Pumpkin
  • Soybean
  • Tomato
  • Lentils
  • Whole grains
  • Corn

Antioxidants benefits

Antioxidants have profound benefits for the human health, particularly for the skin. They help in minimising oxidative damage, which prevents many disorders and health conditions. Some of the most important health benefits of antioxidants have been discussed below:

For the skin: Antioxidants have profound benefits for your skin as they help in delaying wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of ageing. They are also involved in photoprotection (protection from the sun) and wound repair.

For the hair: Antioxidants have immense benefits for your hair. They help in preventing hair fall and premature greying of the hair, as they protect your hair from damage.

For the eyes: Antioxidants have beneficial effects on your eyes as they cater to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration by almost 25%. They also reduce the risk of cataract, thereby reducing the risk of blindness in the elderly.

For the brain: Antioxidants help to reduce oxidative stress and damage, which is responsible for neurodegeneration and memory loss in the elderly. Studies have shown that antioxidants minimise the levels of beta-amyloid protein, which is involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s, thereby reducing the risk.

For weight loss: By aiding in the metabolism of fats, antioxidants assist in the process of weight loss when included in the diet.

Other benefits: By minimising organ damage, antioxidants may help in reducing the risk of coronary heart diseases. The role of antioxidants in the prevention of cancer has also been proven.

  • Antioxidants for the hair
  • Antioxidants for the eye
  • Antioxidants for the brain
  • Antioxidants for the heart
  • Antioxidant benefits for the elderly
  • Antioxidants reduce cancer
  • Antioxidants for weight loss
  • Antioxidant benefits for skin

Antioxidants for the hair

Hair is exposed to a variety of damaging agents on a daily basis, like the ultraviolet sunrays, environmental pollutants, chemicals and smoke. The UV-A sunrays increase the levels of free radicals and UV-B sunrays reduce melanin content of the hair. Melanin is the pigment responsible for the colour of the hair and skin. The combined effects of these two lead to greying of hair.

According to several studies, antioxidants have been found to reduce the damage caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun and age-related changes like greying or loss of hair. They have also been found to enhance the shine and texture of hair. Enriching your diet with antioxidant-rich foods could thus, prove to be beneficial in a number of ways. 

Antioxidants for the eye

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Deficiency of Vitamin A is known to increase the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Researchers have suggested that an increased intake of antioxidants along with vitamins and minerals is likely to prevent or delay AMD, and related vision loss.

Antioxidants have been found to reduce the risk of AMD by 25%. It is recommended to include five servings of fruits and vegetables in the diet each day to reduce this risk along with two servings of nuts and seeds. This will also help in reducing the risk of cataract, another factor causing blindness among the elderly.

Antioxidants for the brain

Free radicals also cause damage to the brain, a vital organ of the body. The defence mechanisms of the human body fail to function with age as the percentage of free radicals in the body gradually increase. These elements aggressively react with the brain and affect its functioning, including memory and cognition.

Nutritional deficiency of antioxidant foods, particularly Vitamin E, which increases oxidative stress has been found to be associated with memory loss in older individuals. Antioxidants are known to counteract the effects of these reactive oxygen species and can even reverse their damaging effects on the brain. This may help to reduce or prevent memory loss in these individuals.

Certain antioxidants are also known to reduce the levels of beta-amyloid, the compound which is responsible for Alzheimer's disease. So, it is recommended to increase the levels of antioxidant-rich foods, particularly with an advancing age.

Antioxidants for the heart

Oxidative stress is a major cause of atherosclerosis and other cardiac disorders. Insufficient consumption of antioxidants has been found to be a reason for this stress, which is responsible for causing damage to the heart. Supplementation with Vitamin E and C has been found to prevent coronary heart disease. Further extensive studies are, however, required to support these findings. 

Antioxidant benefits for the elderly

Free radicals have the potential to cause damage at the cellular level and can even cause DNA changes. While antioxidant enzymes are present in the body to fight against excessive damage caused by free radicals, it has been found that the amount of free radicals present in the body is more in the elderly. 

This can be due to a reduction in the protective enzymes and defence mechanisms with age. To counteract this process, it is recommended to enhance the levels of antioxidants in the diet, which is likely to exert a positive effect by reducing visible age-related changes such as wrinkles.

Antioxidants reduce cancer

Antioxidants reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Reactive oxygen species such as free radicals responsible for causing oxidative damage have been linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer, like skin cancer, bladder cancer, brain tumour, liver cancer, oral cancer and leukaemia, to name a few. The likelihoods of each of these types of cancer are different. However, oxidative stress is involved in the pathway of conversion of a normal cell into a tumour cell. 

Since antioxidants reduce the levels of reactive oxygen species, they are likely to have a role in reducing the risk of cancer. Cancer-protective effects of antioxidant vitamins like Vitamin C and Vitamin E have been supported by research evidence. However, mixed results have been obtained and a definitive finding cannot be established. Despite that, it is a good idea to supplement your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, since they are generally cancer preventive.

Antioxidants for weight loss

Obesity is a major concern, affecting 5% of the Indian population. The main risk factors for obesity have been ascertained to be an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. While obesity itself is a major problem, it is also a known risk factor for various cardiovascular disorders and diabetes.

Role of certain antioxidant foods like those rich in Vitamin C has been found to be effective in weight management since they help in metabolising fats. These foods also help in enhancing metabolism, which helps to speed the process of weight loss.

Other than vitamin C rich foods, the role of several other antioxidants like Vitamin E, green tea, cinnamon, has also been to be effective for weight loss. Including these foods in your diet while maintaining a balanced diet and optimal levels of physical activity are likely to help achieve the desired weight loss goals.

Antioxidant benefits for skin

Benefits of antioxidants on skin health are immense. They help in reducing and delaying fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of ageing. Several studies have been performed to determine the mechanism by which antioxidants produce these effects. It was found that nutritional antioxidants particularly Vitamin E, Vitamin C and carotenoids are highly beneficial for protecting the skin from ageing and also have a photoprotective effect (protects from UV rays).

Vitamin E has an anti-inflammatory effect and can be used to reduce skin irritation. It has soothing effects on the skin and can even enhance the production of collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein of the skin that helps in improving skin elasticity and is also involved in wound repair and healing. Antioxidant foods can improve the skin health immensely and thus, should constitute an essential part of the diet. 

Studies have also found that the combined effects of Vitamin C and Vitamin E are much more pronounced than either of them individually. A skin ointment containing a combination of both, is thus, recommended.

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