Free radical–mediated inflammatory pathways are caused by exposure to environmental stressors such as UV radiation, ozone, air pollution, and cigarette smoke and sugar among others. These inflammatory pathways are characterized by the formation of free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons.
If they are left unchecked, free radicals can cause extensive cellular damage to cell membranes, lipids, proteins, and DNA. They are also a major cause of skin aging. Because they scavenge and eliminate free radicals, antioxidants are able to counter the deleterious effects of the free radical-mediated inflammatory pathways promoted by oxidative stress.
Antioxidants are known to protect cells from environmental damage, improve the appearance of fine lines, reduce dryness, and smooth the texture of the skin. Here are 10 antioxidant-rich foods to incorporate into your diet.
- Green tea, or more specifically EGCG (Epigallocatechin gallate)
- Turmeric: This is native in southeast India. You will find it in the spice section of the supermarket, and a teaspoonful every day can work wonders. Add it to curries, salads and even desserts. Even better than that is if you can get turmeric root and juice it - add some kale and an apple and you will boost energy, mental function and the immune system.
- Ellagic acid: This compound, found in red raspberries, may be one of the most potent cancer fighters around. It's also a cancer inhibitor and is anti-mutagenic.Research at the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) found that ellagic acid slows the growth of abnormal colon cells in humans and prevents cells infected with human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer, from developing. It also promotes apoptosis, or cell death, of cancer cells without harming healthy cells, a process that may be beneficial in fighting prostate, breast, lung, esophageal and skin cancers.Other studies have also shown that ellagic acid may fight heart disease, reduce the risk of birth defects and speed wound healing. Where it's found: Red raspberries, pomegranate, strawberries, blueberries and walnuts.
- Proanthocyanidins: These antioxidants belong to the flavonoid family. They're the compounds that give red and blue fruits their color, and they've been found to strengthen capillaries, improve vision in the dark, support the integrity of vascular walls and prevent and reverse blood clotting in smokers. They also may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and protect against urinary tract infections. Where they're found: Raisins, grape seed, grape skin, bilberry, cranberry, black currant, green tea, black tea, pine bark, cocoa.
- Glutathione: Glutathione is a very interesting, very small molecule that's found in every cell. Along with neutralizing free radicals, glutathione may boost the immune system and help the liver remove toxins from the body. We do know that glutathione is extremely important for maintaining intracellular health and that's why glutathione has been called the "master antioxidant." "No other antioxidant is as important to overall health as glutathione. It is the regulator and regenerator of immune cells and the most valuable detoxifying agent in the human body. Where it's found: Goat's milk, whey protein, asparagus, avocado, parsley, broccoli
- Polyphenols: These micronutrients represent a large category of antioxidants that include flavonoids and anthocyanidins. Evidence is emerging that these compounds prevent the spread of a number of degenerative conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Where they're found: Strawberries, green tea, black tea, grape skins, red wine, onions, broccoli, greens, apples, blueberries, cocoa (most all fruits and vegetables contain some polyphenols)
- Vitamin E: This well-known, fat-soluble vitamin may, according to the Mayo Clinic, protect against cancer, infertility and cataracts and slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The most popular form of vitamin E is alpha-tocopherol, however, gamma-tocopherol also appears to provide major benefits.For instance, a study in the March 2005 Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that prostate cancer risks went down significantly with high levels of vitamin E. Specifically, men with the highest levels of alpha-tocopherol in their blood were 51 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer while those with the highest levels of gamma-tocopherol were 43 percent less likely to develop the disease. Where it's found: Nuts, vegetable oils, wheat germ oil, green leafy vegetables
Carotenoids: These fat-soluble micronutrients, the most well-known of which is beta-carotene (which can be converted into vitamin A in the body), fight free radicals and inhibit and prevent cervical, oral, lung, prostate, colon, endometrial and esophageal cancers. They also:
- Prevent lipid peroxidation, which generates free radicals
- Enhance immune function
- Stimulate the release of natural killer cells, which directly attack tumor cells
- Protect cells from DNA damage