What is the role of antioxidants?

What is the role of antioxidants?

Antioxidants, the treasures of anti-ageing treatments, defend the body against pro-oxidant free radicals. Natural antioxidants are mainly vitamins (A, C, E), minerals (zinc, selenium) or flavonoids (found in fruits and vegetables).

What are free radicals?

Like every living being of which it is the smallest unit, each cell needs energy.

The energy source of a cell is the mitochondria. A complex chemical reaction takes place, then oxygen enables it to produce Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP) molecules with a high energy potential. However, this phenomenon also leads to the production of activated oxygen species (AOS), including free radicals.

Free radicals are atoms that are characterised by the presence of an unbound (unpaired) electron, which makes it unstable and deleterious to DNA molecules, proteins and lipids, amongst others.

However, contrary to popular belief, they are not only harmful! They are also involved in other protective mechanisms: immune defence, fertilisation of the ovum, destruction of damaged cells, elimination of bacteria, among others.

Antioxidants for restoring balance

Chemistry of life is all about balance, and the action of free radicals is naturally countered by antioxidants.

An antioxidant is able to neutralize a free radical simply by giving it an electron. This has no effect on the stability of the antioxidant but it restores the stability of the free radical, giving it a second life as a stable atom!

There are two sources of antioxidants:

  • Exogenous due to a diet consisting mainly of fruit and vegetables. It is an essential source of antioxidant molecules: vitamin C, E, flavonoids, carotenoids, ubiquinone, flavonoids, glutathione and lipoic acid.
  • Endogenous using certain enzymes, proteins and endonucleases produced by the body.

Oxidative stress

The generation of free radicals is of course controlled by the body.

The level of pro-oxidants and antioxidants is then balanced. If the body produces more radicals than antioxidants, then it is known as oxidative stress. The general function of the body is weakened by the harmful action of free radicals.

Lifestyle plays a fundamental role in the balance between pro and antioxidants. The modern diet, exogenous pollutants such as tobacco, medication, environmental pollutants intensify the production of free radicals and reduce the body's ability to produce antioxidants. The imbalance is increased.

Sources of antioxidants

It is therefore essential to eat more fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidant vitamins (A, group B, C, E) and trace elements (selenium, zinc) in order to stimulate the metabolism and fight against free radicals.

Since plants have better nutritional qualities when they are in season and freshly picked, adjust your intake accordingly, without giving up the plant-based part of your diet.

Some ideas for your shopping basket

Vitamin A: carrot, dandelion, parsley, lettuce, green vegetables, yellow or orange fruits and vegetables

Vitamin C: acerola cherry, blackcurrant, parsley, peppers, tarragon, kiwi, lychee, strawberries, raspberries, cabbage, watercress, citrus fruits

Vitamin E: sunflower oil, wheatgerm, almonds with their skin, tomatoes, kiwis, cabbage green-leafed vegetables

Group B vitamins: nutritional yeast, oilseeds, liver, shellfish, oily fish, raw egg yolk, watercress, spinach, sorrel, lamb's lettuce

Selenium / Zinc: Seafood, meat and eggs, wholegrain cereals, some spices, nuts and oilseeds

Nicolas Couturier, PhD, Scientific Advisor.