Natural antioxidants are very important allies in the fight against oxidative stress: let’s see which ones are the best and how to take them.
Natural antioxidants are a very important weapon to counteract free radicals. When in excess, the latter determine a condition known as oxidative stress, which identifies the structural damage to the cell and its components (nucleic acids, membrane lipids, proteins). If prolonged over time, oxidative stress participates in numerous pathological conditions, including significant ones.
We see below the definition of the concept of “antioxidant”, as well as a description of the most effective natural antioxidants and some practical indications on how to take them.
What are antioxidants
What are antioxidants? Generally speaking, these are substances capable of hindering or neutralizing the action of free radicals, preventing oxidative damage. They are easily oxidized and act as scavengers (“scavengers”) by reacting with these highly reactive molecules. Some may act indirectly on the regeneration or production of other antioxidants.
At a physiological level, there are cellular control mechanisms capable of limiting the excess of free radicals. These mechanisms make use of the so-called endogenous antioxidants (such as glutathione, coenzyme Q10 and the enzymes catalase and superoxide dismutase), so defined as they are produced within the body. There are also exogenous antioxidants, which, by definition, are introduced into the body through nutrition and supplementation. These include some vitamins (C and E), but also polyphenols and carotenoids.
Natural antioxidants: which are the most powerful and how to use them
A well-structured diet, sometimes accompanied by the conscious use of some supplements, provides the body with the antioxidant substances it needs, strengthening its endogenous mechanisms. For cognitive purposes, a description of the best known natural antioxidants follows. In order to avoid unnecessary health risks, it is good practice to leave out the “do it yourself” and seek medical advice before taking any product.
1. C vitamin
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is part of the water- soluble vitamins and is a powerful antioxidant. This role is played within the cell through various mechanisms. Specifically, vitamin C acts as a scavenger of free radicals, but also by reducing the production of the same, and regenerating other antioxidants such as vitamin E.
As it is water-soluble, vitamin C cannot be stored in the body and is therefore excreted in the urine. Overall, this vitamin is useful in supporting the immune system and as a protective agent for cardiovascular health. Furthermore, vitamin C is an excellent ally in cancer prevention, protecting DNA from oxidative damage and inhibiting the formation of carcinogenic substances.
Generally, a varied and balanced diet covers the daily requirement of vitamin C, which is found in many plant foods, including citrus fruits, kiwis, peppers and cabbage. However, if necessary, this substance can be taken through special supplements, be they in capsules, tablets or powder. The recommended daily dose corresponds, under physiological conditions, to 105 mg for adult males and 85 mg for adult females. However, the intake may increase in pregnancy and lactation, as well as in smokers. The quantity of vitamin C that it is advisable not to exceed corresponds to about 1000 mg / day.
Selenium is classified among the trace elements and, although it is present in the body only in trace amounts, it is necessary for various cellular processes. These include the antioxidant mechanisms exerted by selenoproteins. Intuitively, selenium participates in the structure of these enzymes, which act in detoxifying the body from free radicals.
Selenium deficiency is not a common condition, so much so that an adequate diet is able to cover the needs of this element. The recommended daily dose corresponds to 55 μg, although it may increase in some physiological conditions (pregnancy, lactation) and pathological conditions (eg intestinal malabsorption).
When recommended, a selenium supplement supports the body’s antioxidant potential, as well as thyroid function and nail and hair health. Typically, selenium is supplemented as L-selenomethionine, in capsule, drop or granulate format. An excess of selenium can be toxic: in this regard, it is important not to exceed the dosage for each product.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E, or tocopherol, is one of the fat- soluble vitamins, so it dissolves in fats and is accumulated in the liver. This vitamin is a prominent antioxidant component and is implicated in various cellular processes, such as signaling pathways and gene expression. Vitamin E is known for its protective and beneficial effects on cardiovascular, skin and eye health. In food it is found mainly in nuts, oil seeds and their respective oils.
Vitamin E deficiency is a very rare condition. Where necessary, it is still possible to fill it by taking capsules or liquid solutions with a suitable dosage. According to the guidelines, the adequate intake level of vitamin E is 13 mg per day for adult males and 12 mg per day for adult females.
4. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 plays a very important role in cellular bioenergetics and is also one of the most powerful antioxidants. Specifically, it functions as a free radical scavenger and, when present in the form of ubiquinol, is involved in the regeneration of other antioxidant molecules.
Although it is also present in some foods, the supplementation of coenzyme Q10 can be useful in the general context of aging and some disorders (eg: migraine, fibromyalgia) that can be related to the deficiency of this substance. Coenzyme Q10-based supplements are available in tablet, powder or drop formats and should be taken by consulting the package leaflet provided. In general, the recommended daily amounts are between 30 and 100 mg.
5. Lipoic acid
Lipoic acid (or alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA) is a substance present in the mitochondria, the cellular organelles that function as the cell’s “powerhouse”. Within them, this component represents a “cofactor”, being involved in the reactions that produce energy starting from sugar glucose. In addition, lipoic acid is also an antioxidant.
In particular, it can act directly, neutralizing free radicals and capturing heavy metals (involved in oxidative stress), and indirectly, regenerating other antioxidants in the cell (such as glutathione). The antioxidant action of this substance lends itself to cardiovascular and brain health, but also to skin protection from UV rays and premature aging.
Lipoic acid antioxidant products are available in powder or tablet form, and each will be accompanied by specific dosage information. In general, the daily dose of lipoic acid is between 300 and 600 mg.
Lycopene is a very well known substance in the world of food supplementation. Specifically, it is a carotenoid with a strong antioxidant power, and therefore able to neutralize free radicals. In addition, lycopene can also act indirectly on oxidative stress, increasing the activity and expression of some endogenous antioxidants (enzymes). The intake of lycopene can act as a protective factor for the health of the heart, brain and skin, as well as counteract some cancers. Among the foods that contain it in good quantities we find tomatoes and watermelon.
Lycopene supplements are available at retail stores in capsule or tablet form. The dosage may vary depending on the product, although the most used doses range between 10 and 15 mg per day.
Beta-carotene belongs to the larger group of carotenoids and is a precursor of vitamin A. It is a fat-soluble substance that is deposited in the liver and which, significantly, boasts a documented neutralizing activity on free radicals, opposing oxidative stress.
Beta-carotene should be taken in daily doses of 2 – 6 mg, easily reachable through a varied and balanced diet; this substance is in fact present in various plant foods, such as pumpkin, carrots, apricots, melon and sweet potatoes. The correct intake of beta-carotene through plant foods is attributed protective effects on cardiovascular and neurological health, but also on the health of the skin (protection from UV rays) and eyes.
Due to its potentially harmful effects (eg in smokers), the intake of supplements based on beta-carotene is a controversial and debated topic. In this regard, it is important to submit each specific case for medical opinion.
Being among the most interesting natural antioxidants, resveratrol is also fully part of the list in question. Specifically, it is a polyphenol widely investigated for its curative and preventive potential, as well as a component of great pharmaceutical interest. Among its many activities, resveratrol appears to function at the cellular level by promoting the activity of antioxidant enzymes (such as catalase and superoxide dismutase). Based on current evidence, resveratrol could be beneficial for human health, acting as a cardioprotective, antitumor and anti-aging agent.
This polyphenol can be obtained from some foods, such as blueberries, red grapes and dark chocolate, although it is possible to integrate it through specific products. These supplements are mostly available in capsule or tablet format, and should be taken respecting the specific posologies. Typically, the recommended doses range between 200 and 500 mg per day.
Glutathione is a molecule made up of three amino acids and normally produced within the body. It is a substance with a strong antioxidant action and an integral part of the cell’s antioxidant mechanisms. Glutathione can act as a scavenger or as an “enzymatic cofactor”, counteracting, in any case, the action of free radicals on cellular structures.
By virtue of its antioxidant properties, glutathione is sometimes supplemented to promote the elimination of liver toxins, the protection of organs and tissues from the harmful effects of certain drugs and to stimulate the immune system. Glutathione is commercially available in the form of capsules, ampoules or powder, as a single component or in combination with other active ingredients. The dose to be used varies, on average, from 50 to 600 mg per day. In any case, it is a good idea to consult the manufacturer’s instructions.
Quercetin is a very widespread flavonoid in the plant world, so much so that it is possible to take it through commonly used foods (eg blueberries, capers, onions, apples, etc.). Furthermore, quercetin is a substance with a strong antioxidant power and whose properties have been extensively investigated. In this regard, quercetin fights free radicals by acting as a “scavenger”; it can bind heavy metals favoring their elimination from the body, and it can favor the expression of antioxidant enzymes.
Quercetin supplements, available in different formats (capsules, tablets, etc.) as needed, are sometimes recommended for their cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory effects, but also to counteract premature aging and modulate the immune system. The dosage varies according to the specific product, although the daily quantities correspond, on average, to 200 mg. In several cases, quercetin supplements are enhanced with additions of vitamin C and bromelain.