The Inside Scoop On Free Radicals, Antioxidants & Phytonutrients
What Are Free Radicals?
Imagine a giant ballroom filled with couples waltzing to music, whirling about in a finely choreographed dance until a single dancer without a partner enters the ballroom. He cuts in on dancing couples, leaving one of the original dancers without a partner. This odd-man-out scenario disrupts everything, creating chaos, as the new partner-less dancers cut in on other couples in a chain reaction of disruptions.
When this happens to the molecules in our body it’s termed oxidative stress. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that are missing electrons and seek out other molecules that they can steal electrons from, which damages the ‘donor’ molecules. When this electron shuffling is widespread and greater than the body’s ability to neutralize them, it can cause serious damage to proteins, molecules, and genes and lead to a variety of chronic diseases.
Free radicals are normal and occur naturally within the body, and for the most part your body can neutralize them before they cause damage. However, certain external factors trigger an excess in production of free radicals:
- Exposure to UV rays
- An unhealthy, high-sugar diet
- Lack of quality sleep
- Certain medications
Too many circulating free radicals can contribute to a variety of modern day inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure. Even Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and many neurological diseases are implicated.
1. Reduce Exposure
The first is obvious: reduce exposure to free radicals. Don’t let that single dancer into the ballroom in the first place! Look for ways you can reduce the oxidative stress on your body – minimize the amount of pesticides, tobacco smoke and pollution you’re exposed to, and reduce your intake of alcohol, sugar and processed foods.
2. Increase Antioxidants
The second is just as important: make sure you’re getting enough antioxidants! An antioxidant is a molecule that has an extra electron that it can donate to a free radical to neutralize it. Consuming antioxidants is equivalent to introducing another single dancer to the ballroom so there aren’t any more partner-less dancers. That’s the role antioxidants play in the human body.
Antioxidants come directly from the food we eat. Consider adding grapes, blueberries, nuts, dark green vegetables, root vegetables, and beans to your diet. Supplement with vitamin E and vitamin C if you’re not getting enough from your normal dietary intake.
Like everything else in our body, it’s all about balance. For our bodies to function optimally, we need to limit the amount of free radicals in our body and maximize the amount of antioxidants to keep them in check.
What Are Phytonutrients?
Maximizing the amount high-antioxidant foods in your diet is incredibly important for your health, but recent research has shown that the benefits we get from these same foods goes far beyond just their ability to fight free radicals. Phytonutrients – also called phytochemicals – are naturally-occurring compounds in plants that protect our health in many wondrous ways.
Phytonutrients help fight inflammation, influence blood vessel function, affect certain hormones and signaling systems that regulate cell growth, and even influence whether genes that protect health are turned on or temporarily silenced.
From fruits and vegetables to grains, beans, nuts and seeds – if it’s a plant, it contains phytonutrients. Often these mighty phytonutrients provide the pigment in plants, so take a cue from the color. Orange-tinted beta carotene gives carrots, pumpkin and other winter squashes their distinctive hue. Bright red cherries are packed with anthocyanins and purple grapes are rich in resveratrol. Typically, the darker the color, the more phytonutrients inside.
Share what you’ve learned! We want our entire community to be healthier and stronger so they can do more of what they love. Good nutrition, proper exercise and regular chiropractic care to keep your musculoskeletal system working optimally are the best ways to reach that goal. Need a chiropractor in the Brookfield, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, or New Berlin areas? Call us at 262-345-4155 to make an appointment or use our online scheduling app – we’d love to help you get the most out of your body!