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How antioxidants counteract oxidative stress & inflammation

Inflammation is a good thing, but chronic inflammation can damage tissues and is the root cause of many diseases.
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 00:53 IST
Last Updated : 14 April 2024, 00:53 IST

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What would you do if a wormy creature ran around your body, eating the protein members that comprise your cells? These active radicals are highly mobile, while free radicals are not. It turns out that free radicals are like little imps that love to destroy cells. This imbalance can lead to cellular damage known as oxidative stress. The result is chronic inflammation, the body’s response to disease or injury.

Inflammation is a good thing, but chronic inflammation can damage tissues and is the root cause of many diseases.

This is how the mediator fights free radicals and other substances that threaten cells. They come in two types: enzymatic, in other words, enzymes that feed on free radicals, or non-enzymatic, such as shields that play a part in adding electrons to free radicals for calm.

An umbrella seems like the perfect explanation here. Some of the best non-enzymatic antioxidants include:

Vitamin C: This hero could well be the plentiful sour amla (indigenous gooseberry, which helps in the strengthening of the immune system) that is used in plenty in our country.
Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds and peanuts are among the superfoods that provide the body with this significant antioxidant to shield the cell membrane against free radical attacks.
Beta-carotene: This bright orange superhero transforms into a vitamin A scintillant, another antioxidant that both helps with vision and leaves skin glowing.

However, the question arises as to how are these antioxidants obtained. Yes, your body actually produces enough of the antioxidants, but its quantity cannot cover the detrimental effect of the damaging free radicals from both natural and external sources. That’s where food comes in.

Nature’s bounty

Here’s a look at some desi antioxidant powerhouses:

Berry bonanza: Just like anthocyanins that give its skin a deep purple colour, our native jamun (or black plum) with its antioxidant compound, is a hidden treasure!

Mighty tomato: Tomato is a vital component of many of our meals and the increasing evidence of lycopene as an anti-cholesterol and anti-cancer natural agent in tomatoes can neither be ignored nor overemphasised. Use them in your curries, salads, or as a simple tomato seasoning.

Leafy green guardians: Leafy vegetables saag and methi are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been associated with protection against age-related macular degeneration. Throw them with your sauces in a saag paneer or dal to have a double portion of nutrients.

Going beyond the usual suspects

Turmeric: This proves multifaceted in more than just a ceremonial context. It is crammed with curcumin, an antioxidant recognised to have potent anti-inflammatory characteristics. But guess what? Lavang and adrak (cloves and ginger) are also excellent sources of antioxidants that help with digestion! A pinch of each may be added to your tadka for flavour and health benefits.

Nuts & seeds: Almonds and flaxseeds are full of vitamin E antioxidants, which help support your heart. You can sprinkle them over your salads, raitas, or even kheer to add crunchiness along with a bunch of antioxidants.

Tulsi (holy basil): This holy herb is not just used for religious purposes but also has potent antioxidant and immune-stimulant characteristics. Be creative and place tulsi leaves into your tea or brew to make a kashayam.

The domino effect

What can antioxidants do to lower inflammation? Antioxidants counteract the free radicals, thus preventing them from adhering to and causing harm to cell membranes and other biological components. This supports a healthy cellular environment and reduces an overactive immune system that requires less reaction. Chronic inflammation often involves the overproduction of pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines. Antioxidants, such as curcumin in turmeric, can do this by acting directly on these inflammatory messages. Getting antioxidants from food is wonderful, but taking antioxidant pills is a different matter. The evidence for its effectiveness is mixed, to say the least. In severe cases, many things can go wrong. Do not start taking supplements unless advised by your doctor.

Fun fact

Cooking methods can increase antioxidants. Tomatoes cooked in a little ghee release more lycopene. Plants produce antioxidants to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. By doing so, you’re just borrowing your own sunscreen.

(The author is a wellness expert.)

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Published 14 April 2024, 00:53 IST

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