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5 natural antioxidants you should always have in the pantry

Natural antioxidants

Natural allies against free radicals

We are increasingly told that a diet rich in natural antioxidants is of paramount importance as they are useful for protecting our cells from the attack of free radicals and therefore from premature ageing.

The word "antioxidant" is also used in advertising slogans for beauty products, often presented as a true "elixir of youth". But what exactly are antioxidants? And why can their action be so important for our body?

The role of antioxidants is definitely not a recent invention and was also underlined by an article published on the website of Umberto Veronesi Foundation. The action carried out by antioxidants against free radicals is critical to preserve not only the youth and beauty of our body, but also to maintain a good general state of health and prevent various kinds of ailments. Let's discover what they are and how to reduce the synthesis of free radicals and the 5 powerful antioxidants that nature has made available to us.

 

Free radicals: what they are and how they act

Every cell in your body needs oxygen to live, however, oxygen molecules themselves can produce free radicals, during specific chemical reactions. Therefore, free radicals are nothing more than ions produced by the cells and are responsible not only of premature ageing, but also of the weakening of the immune system and the onset of certain diseases.

Free radicals act by damaging the cell structures such as plasma membranes and DNA and this action has a negative impact on the health of the whole body. Actually «The vast majority of researchers studying free radicals believe that these deadly molecules contribute to causing 80 to 90% of the degenerative diseases that afflict humanity.» (H. Sharma, Radicali liberi. Come combatterli per prevenire l’invecchiamento e le malattie, Milano 2001).

 

5 factors that increase the synthesis of free radicals

We can therefore say that the process of cellular ageing, or rather the production of free radicals, is nothing more than a physiological consequence of some metabolic reactions necessary for the very life of every cell. Therefore it cannot be completely eliminated.

However, there are some factors that can increase the production of free radicals and the cellular destruction and then determine a premature ageing. The main factors are:

  • active and passive smoking and pollution;

  • unbalanced nutrition, high in fat and excessive consumption of alcohol;

  • excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays;

  • prolonged periods of psycho-physical stress;

  • prolonged medicine consumption.

Even physical exercise, in particular aerobic, when done to excess, can increase the production of free radicals; however it is important to point out that regular physical activity can promote the disposal processes of oxidising agents, optimising the action of endogenous antioxidants, i.e. the defence mechanisms developed by the body. So exercise is also useful for combating premature ageing as long as we do not exaggerate.

The first noticeable signs of the action of free radicals are primarily external: this is why we may notice their negative effects on the skin of a smoker or a person who is frequently exposed to sunlight or UV lamps.

 

Sun exposure and free radicals

In summer, about 20-30% of total daily ultraviolet rays that reach the earth's surface is concentrated around noon, when the sun is at its Zenith, while 75% of the total reaches the Earth's surface between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. During these hours you should avoid exposure to sunlight without protection for prolonged periods.

Sunlight may in fact increase the normal presence of free radicals, after only 15 minutes of sun exposure! There are certainly natural defence mechanisms, able to counteract the damage induced by UV rays, yet the cells possess a limited antioxidant heritage, which is not able to buffer the adverse effects caused by improper and prolonged exposure.

 

Most effective antioxidants against free radicals:
pick the one that suits you best among these 5 natural antioxidants!

The first step to combat the excessive presence of free radicals in the body is to adopt a healthy and balanced diet and follow a healthy lifestyle (avoiding the triggering causes of oxidative stress, which we talked about earlier).

The main sources of antioxidants are foods, especially fruits and vegetables: as also mentioned by an information brochure published by the Ministry of Health in order to raise awareness with regard to proper nutrition "eating fresh fruits and vegetables of all colours helps fight off free radicals, harmful molecules that attack our cells every day and which are responsible for degenerative diseases and cellular ageing".

Sometimes, however, because of the hectic pace of everyday life or the adopted cooking methods, you cannot always take with diet alone sufficient doses of antioxidants to help the cells of your body cope with free radicals.

Often also external factors (stress, overwork, intake of drugs etc.) can expose you to a surplus of free radicals. In these cases it is possible to enhance the defence mechanisms against free radicals put in place by the body (endogenous) by taking natural antioxidants, in the form of specific supplements.

The antioxidants provided by nature are different, but among the 5 most effective and exploited in herbal medicine there are certainly the following ones.

1) Goji berries

Goji berries have been praised in the East for centuries for their remarkable properties; also known as "longevity fruit", these powerful natural antioxidants "fight off cellular ageing, counteracting the damaging action of free radicals, primarily responsible for oxidative stress." (G. Maffeis, Açai, goji e mirtilli tre bacche miracolose, Milano 2014).

2) Acai berries

Acai berries are the fruit of Euterpe oleacea, a palm native to Brazil but now cultivated throughout South America. The purple fruits of this plant, similar to wine grapes, besides being powerful natural antioxidants, can support the metabolism of lipids and carbohydrates and be good allies in weight-loss diets. As a matter of fact, "they are credited with various healing properties due to the particular richness in anthocyanins, a class of very potent antioxidants." (F. Firenzuoli, F. Epifani,V. Severi, Dimagrire con le erbe: le proprietà e le caratteristiche essenziali di tutte le erbe che possono aiutarci a dimagrire in modo sano e naturale, Milano 2016).

3) Pomegranate

The fruits of the pomegranate plant (Punica granatum) originated in Persia have been appreciated since ancient Egypt for their therapeutic properties; in particular from the seeds "they obtain an oil with antioxidant properties rich in vitamin C, E, polyunsaturated fatty acids" (C. Valnet, L’Erborista – Parte 2, Milano 2015). No coincidence that the fruit of the pomegranate has traditionally been used in different traditions as auspicious symbol of fertility and prosperity.

4) Green tea

The multiple properties of green tea have been known and exploited for centuries and its fame has come down to our days since the time of ancient China. The leaves of Camellia sinensis, in fact, in the variety of green tea, maintain their polyphenol content, "a compound with strong antioxidant power (at least as that of vitamin E) [...] In addition, green tea not only acts by itself as an antioxidant, but it stimulates the body's antioxidant mechanisms [...] "(F. Perugini Billi, Manuale di Fitoterapia, Azzano San Paolo 2008).

5) Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a substance belonging to the family of polyphenolic compounds present in various substances and food (wine grapes, wine, some oilseeds such as peanuts). The most important natural source of resveratrol however is the Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum), much used in herbal medicine for its antioxidant.

On the market you can find supplements the formulation of which contains resveratrol, extracted from Japanese knotweed, used in synergy with plants such as dog rose, grape seeds and acerola (effective natural antioxidants) that enhance the action.

 

Goji berries in Chinese medicine

Goji berries in the East are heavily used not only as a powerful natural antioxidant. In the civilisation of the Dragon, these fruits have been credited for centuries with curative "powers".

Indeed, their properties "were also disclosed in the oldest Chinese medical treatise: the Pen Tsao Ching." Today the berries are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of certain prostate problems." (G. Maffeis, Ibidem).

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