Are Antioxidants Really Important For Longevity?
Our cells face threats all day everyday from toxic chemicals, to UV rays, to cigarette smoke, to viruses and infections, and even to exercise and the food we eat. These external threats are what we commonly refer to as free-radicals. Free-radicals damage cells in your body by “stealing” electrons, altering cell membranes and DNA codes.
As we are being constantly exposed to a multitude of free radicals, it is possible to develop a condition called oxidative stress. This free-radical attack on your cellular structures obviously takes a toll - that toll causes rapid aging, chronic disease, cancers, cellular degeneration, vision loss, stress, cognitive decline, and a weakened immune system.
For years it was thought that we could help our cells fight back with free-radical fighting properties in certain foods called “antioxidants”. Is that true? Lately it has been discovered that free radicals aren’t the cause of aging, and antioxidants don’t necessarily extend lifespan. So are they still good for you? Keep reading.
HOW DO ANTIOXIDANTS WORK?
“Antioxidant” actually refers to the chemical property of a substance being able to act as an electron donor. Antioxidants slow and even prevent the excessive oxidation process caused by free-radicals. The oxidation process is a natural process, but with all of the daily toxic exposure we face, the immune system becomes disoriented and overreacts. Antioxidants are the sidekicks your immune system needs - offering electrons to free-radicals, repairing DNA, and healing other cellular damage.
Did you know that there are hundreds of different antioxidants and that they do different things? Antioxidants each have different properties, behaviors, and play different roles in the oxidative process.
ANTIOXIDANTS AND LONGEVITY
We age for many reasons other than oxidative damage caused by free radicals, so antioxidants don’t necessarily extend lifespan as previously thought.
A study published in the PLOS journal explains how free radicals may even extend lifespan by functioning as a warning sign to fire up your cell's natural defense mechanisms. Free radicals send your body into detox mode, or signal the need for repair of enzymes and proteins. This also explains why exercise is so healthy for your body! Exercise sends a message regarding damage and the need for repair as well as trains your cells to be even stronger for next time. This contributes to reducing the signs of aging and protecting you against age-related diseases.
Another study by Kondrad T. Howitz and David A. Sinclair explains a theory called “xenohormesis”. This theory proposes that animals and plants have evolved to sense stress signals from other species that triggers a defensive response. This study explains how phytochemicals are more beneficial than antioxidants when it comes to longevity. Even the majority of health benefits from consuming phytochemicals is due to “evolutionarily adaptive modulation of the enzymes and receptors of stress-response pathways in mammals”.
What is true, however, is that oxidative damage is one of the reasons for aging. Dr. David Sinclair listed 8-9 “hallmarks of aging” in his book, Lifespan. Two of them being, DNA damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. Antioxidant-rich foods can be anti-aging aids in both of these areas.
Antioxidants still have benefits worth praising when it comes to preserving health. For example, the anti-inflammatory properties, epigenetic cues, and mitochondrial activity of specifc foods contribute to longevity in different ways. Foods that contain antioxidant properties improve gut health, don’t overstimulate the aging pathways, help deliver essential vitamins and minerals throughout your body, and improve mitochondrial function.
As there is no “one” way to stop aging and live forever YET, eating a healthy diet rich in phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, exercising, having close community, a sense of purpose, and reducing stress are important to longevity. Dr. Sinclair and I will be diving into his latest research on longevity on my Instagram Live; tune in for our Longevity Lifestyle Super Series starting in January 2022.
WHICH FOODS HAVE ANTIOXIDANTS?
One thing to note is that these days our soil is not as rich in nutrients and minerals as it used to be, which makes it hard to get all of the antioxidants your body could really use. Which is why you should consider taking an antioxidant supplement with extra superfoods like Just Add Water®. Superfoods are extremely high in micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants, enzymes and health fats. That being said, these are some of our favorite plant-based food sources of antioxidants you can pick up at the grocery store! (Remember to buy organic if possible!)
- Vitamin C: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, leafy greens (turnip, mustard, beet, collards), acerola cherry, honeydew, kale, kiwi, lemon, orange, papaya, snow peas, strawberries, sweet potato, tomatoes, and bell peppers
- Vitamin E: Almonds, avocado, Swiss chard, leafy greens (beet, mustard, turnip), peanuts, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds. FUN FACT - there are eight chemical forms of vitamin E present in foods
- Carotenoids including beta-carotene and lycopene: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, bell peppers, kale, mangos, turnip and collard greens, oranges, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, winter squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, barley, brown rice
- Zinc: sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, cashews, fortified cereals
- Phenolic compounds:
BENEFITS OF EATING MORE FOODS WITH ANTIOXIDANTS
Antioxidants give your immune system more energy to do other important tasks. This leads to benefits like, improved sleep, better brain function, improved cellular communication, more stamina and strength for workouts, shedding of excess pounds, healthy and glowing skin, reduced signs of aging from protecting your DNA, and improved organ function!
ANCIENT ANTIOXIDANT SUPERFRUIT
The acerola cherry has been a superfood since the time of the Amazonian Indians in South America. The natives noticed the benefits of what we now know to be the high vitamin C content. The vitamin C level of acerola is 30X greater than fruits you'd think of - like oranges . This superfruit is also high in vitamin A, vitamin B group and minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. One of our favorite nutritional benefits is it's ANTIOXIDANT properties! These include polyphenolic anthocyanidin compounds like quercetin, and many others.
Here are the science backed benefits:
- Improve Digestion
- Heart Healthy
- Anti-Cancer Properties
- Maintain Balanced Blood Sugar Levels
- Brain Health Support
- Reduce Fatigue
- Improve Metabolism
- Weight Loss Aid
ALL ABOUT GLUTATHIONE
Glutathione, or “the master antioxidant” is an antioxidant found abundantly in our bodies. It helps us to fight the stressors of modern life while also protecting against heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease. This master antioxidant actually helps to boost and recycle other antioxidants. When your body has abundant levels of this antioxidant, you have vibrant energy, glowing skin, a sharp brain, and a healthy heart. Glutathione is associated with longevity for its benefits listed below:
- Reduces the free-radical stress on your cells & DNA
- Protects your mitochondria
- Helps your liver and kidney remove toxins from the body that can become free radicals
- Shown to help decrease wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and psoriasis, and increase skin elasticity
- Improves your immune system response
- Important for optimal digestion of fat
- Balances and protects the neurons in your brain for better cognition
- Essential for homeostasis in your body
- Connected to reproductive health
Glutathione is found abundantly in meat, and moderately in fruits & veggies. Here is how to get this antioxidant on a plant-based diet:
- Eat foods rich in sulfur help your body make glutathione (garlic, onions, cruciferous veggies)
- Foods high in selenium (brown rice, brazil nuts)
- Supplement with milk thistle for the silymarin
- Turmeric & curcumin increase glutathione levels
- Regular exercise
- Quality rest
- Reduce exposure to toxic chemicals
Overall, consuming foods that contain antioxidants is beneficial to your health. Although they are not the main ingredient in extending your lifespan, I recommend eating a whole food diet with lots of "superfoods" like the ones that contain high antioxidant levels.