The role of free radicals in chronic disease

What creates free radicals?

Our cells use oxygen to generate energy. This process also creates free radicals - reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) - as a by product. These free radicals play a dual role as both toxic and beneficial compounds. 

At low or moderate levels, ROS and RNS exert beneficial effects on cellular responses and immune function. At high concentrations, they generate oxidative stress, a harmful process that can damage cell structures. Oxidative stress plays a major part in the development of chronic and degenerative ailments such as cancer, arthritis, aging, autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.

Counteract oxidative stress

The body has several mechanisms to counteract oxidative stress. It produces antioxidants naturally, and it uses antioxidants supplied through foods. The role of antioxidants is to neutralize the excess of free radicals, to protect the cells against their toxic effects and to contribute to disease prevention. 

Antioxidants from our diet play an important role in the neutralization of oxidative stress. Nutrient antioxidant deficiency is one of the main causes of numerous chronic and degenerative diseases. Antioxidant supplements do not have the same composition as natural antioxidants in foods. Therefore, it is not clear that they offer the same benefits as antioxidants in foods. (1).

Antioxidant foods

Here are the key nutrient antioxidants and some common natural sources for them: 

  • Vitamin C. Acid fruits, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, red bell pepper, strawberry.
  • Vitamin E. Whole grains, nuts, cereals, sunflower seeds, spinach, avocado.
  • Beta-carotene. Leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, cantaloupe, mango, red bell pepper.
  • Lycopene. Guava, tomato, watermelon, grapefruit, red bell pepper, papaya.
  • Selenium. Garlic, onion, grains, nuts, soybean, seafood.
  • Flavonoids. Cardamom, turmeric, green tea, grapes, apple, cocoa (chocolate), berries, onion, broccoli.
  • Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, fatty fish, eggs. (2).

Next, Learn more about the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant superpowers of turmeric

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