by Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Antioxidants bring to mind terms like anti-cancer, anti-aging, and rejuvenating. Recently, antioxidants have become associated with things from longevity to disease resistance thanks to celebrities pitching products and the media making it such a powerful buzzword. But, what exactly are antioxidants? Do they live up to all the hype?
What are antioxidants?
Without being too technical, antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that help the body prevent or delay some form of cell damage. Most people think we exclusively get antioxidants from the food we eat, but that’s not entirely true. In fact, the body is actually capable of producing its own antioxidants. For example, glutathione is naturally synthesized by every cell in the body and is considered to be the most important antioxidant because it is linked to longevity. [1, 2]
Since we have antioxidants present in our body at all times, the same is true for its counterpart: free radicals.
Are free radicals really bad?
When our bodies use the oxygen we breathe to make energy, one byproduct is free radicals. For decades, people have been led to believe that free radicals are the body’s worst enemies, and that we should do everything to make sure we eliminate it from our system. Well, I have some good news. Not all free radicals are bad for you, as some free radicals are necessary to help keep the body clean. The liver makes use of free radicals to detoxify while our white blood cells use them to obliterate bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells. [3, 4]
Too much free radical production, however, either from stress or external pollutants, can cause too much oxidation and lead to “oxidative stress” that can cause damage to nearby cells, mitochondria, and DNA . It’s the imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals that can cause problems. This means the whole point of supplementing or ingesting antioxidant-rich foods is not to remove free radicals from our system, but to add bioavailable antioxidants keep them in check.
While the body is able to produce a potent antioxidant on its own, today’s stressors and pollutants simply overwhelm our natural defenses and often lead to oxidative stress. With that in mind, researchers have studied the effects of increasing the body’s antioxidant load through external means such as consuming foods rich in antioxidants or taking antioxidant supplements. Below are some of the known benefits:
- Slows or delays aging of the skin and other organs. While the research for longevity is still inconclusive overall, there have been positive findings when it comes to slowing down the aging process of our organs. Our skin, heart, liver, and brain as well as our eyes benefit from antioxidant intake and keeps them optimal when it comes to daily functions. [6,7, 8]
- Reduced risk of cancer. It’s no secret that antioxidants are capable of reducing cancer risks. Vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, and EGCG are highly capable of helping prevent cancer, but taking too much can result to deleterious effects and might suppress the body’s natural protective functions. [9 – 12]
- Promotes detoxification. Antioxidants such as glutathione have been shown to play important roles when it comes to cellular health and liver function. A healthy liver is able to properly detoxify the body of nasty substances, and it does so with the help of glutathione. 
- Helps prevent loss of vision. Age-related macular disorder is one of the leading causes of blindness in the elderly. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric and has been shown to be both anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Research demonstrates its ability to reduce or delaying age-related macular disorder and other eye diseases. 
Common types of antioxidants
There are many types of antioxidants and many of them are found in plants, herbal extracts, vegetables, and lots of fruits. Below are some of the more common ones you will routinely encounter which makes them practical enough to consume on a daily basis.
- Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds largely found in vegetables, fruits, and other forms of vegetation. Foods that contain polyphenols include tea leaves, grapes, pear, cherries, coffee, chocolate, and some legumes.
- Resveratrol is a type of polyphenol found in grapes and berries, and explains why many associate resveratrol with red wine and the popular French Paradox. Recent research on Resveratrol reveal positive associations when it comes to cardiovascular disease and cancer risks reduction. 
- Vitamin C is one of the most common and stable vitamins. It can do a lot of great things for our health and is best known for supporting a healthy immune system. What many don’t know is vitamin C is also considered an antioxidant and is also capable of reducing free radical damage. Its heat and light stability makes it a great preservative in most bottled beverages. It’s inexpensive and works in any form you take it.
- Vitamin A is good for our eyes, but research also suggests that vitamin A and carotenoids, compounds that resemble Vitamin A in structure, can be effective antioxidants for inhibiting eye diseases and heart disease. 
- Vitamin E is one of the most popular antioxidants and is commonly advertised as a skin rejuvenating supplement. Scientists have shown that vitamin E can do more than just keep your skin looking young and supple. As it turns out, vitamin E can also help reduce the risks of cancers, arthritis, cataracts, atherosclerosis, and a condition called platelet clumping. 
Potent Sources of Antioxidants
The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a unit of measure used when determining antioxidant content in specific types of food. Basically, the higher the ORAC value of food, the better it functions as an antioxidant. Note that the numbers listed as ORAC value are measured per 100 g, meaning if Food A has 100,000 ORAC it means you need to consume at least 100 g of that particular food to get the full ORAC value. 
When considering a diet built around ORAC value, it’s important to note that you have to invest in that diet within practical and palatable means. Ground Cloves have an ORAC value of 290,283, and while it does possess quite a high number, no one really eats 100 g of cloves in one sitting!
- Berries- These are a tasty treat whether as part of a sweet dessert, or blended into a nice breakfast smoothie. They are also known to possess potent antioxidants which varies according to their skin pigment.
- Grape skin and seeds- Grapes are tasty, but the healthy stuff is in their skin. They have been proven to deliver antioxidant activity exhibiting cancer-protective properties on tissues and organs like the colon. 
- Coffee- Brewed (black) coffee is one of the best beverages you can drink in a day. Coffee has demonstrated plenty of health benefits linked to weight loss, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even dementia. Moreover, coffee has loads of antioxidants although the coffee cherry, the fruit where coffee beans are sourced, has more than 100 times antioxidant power. 
- Turmeric- Turmeric is that yellow spice used to make curry (and other yellow dishes). More than the color and exotic taste, turmeric is also known to possess therapeutic properties largely due to its bioactive compound: curcumin. Curcumin is credited to be an excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Because of those two traits, many scientists see its potential in chemopreventive effects on cancer growth. 
- Green Tea- We know green tea is loaded with all sorts of healthy goodies and antioxidants are among them. Just like turmeric, the health benefits of tea are largely associated with Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is a type of polyphenol and has been observed to potentially aid in weight loss, improve cancer symptoms, and reduce risks of heart disease.
Fitting it all in
A PCOS Diva’s diet is packed with plant-based nutrients, so we are well on the way to getting all the antioxidants we require. I always try to add something like low-glycemic berries to my morning smoothie. When that doesn’t work for the recipe, I add PCOS Diva Power Reds. It contains concentrated amounts of all the antioxidants outlined here. It is my morning antioxidant insurance policy! Learn more about smoothies, The Best Breakfast for PCOS here.
Amy Medling is a certified health coach, who specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health and happiness.
- Richie JP, Leutzinger Y, Parthasarathy S, Malloy V, Orentreich N, Zimmerman JA. Methionine restriction increases blood glutathione and longevity in F344 rats. FASEB J. 1994;8(15):1302-7.
- Cascella R, Evangelisti E, Zampagni M, et al. S-linolenoyl glutathione intake extends life-span and stress resistance via Sir-2.1 upregulation in Caenorhabditis elegans. Free Radic Biol Med. 2014;73:127-35.
- Casas-Grajales S, Muriel P. Antioxidants in liver health. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2015;6(3):59-72. doi:10.4292/wjgpt.v6.i3.59.
- Segal AW. How Neutrophils Kill Microbes. Annual review of immunology. 2005;23:197-223. doi:10.1146/annurev.immunol.23.021704.115653.
- Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress?. Metab Clin Exp. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
- Binic I, Lazarevic V, Ljubenovic M, Mojsa J, Sokolovic D. Skin Ageing: Natural Weapons and Strategies. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2013;2013:827248. doi:10.1155/2013/827248.
- Fusco D, Colloca G, Monaco MRL, Cesari M. Effects of antioxidant supplementation on the aging process. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2007;2(3):377-387.
- Liu F-C, Tsai Y-F, Tsai H-I, Yu H-P. Anti-Inflammatory and Organ-Protective Effects of Resveratrol in Trauma-Hemorrhagic Injury. Mediators of Inflammation. 2015;2015:643763. doi:10.1155/2015/643763.
- Salganik RI. The benefits and hazards of antioxidants: controlling apoptosis and other protective mechanisms in cancer patients and the human population. J Am Coll Nutr. 2001;20(5 Suppl):464S-472S.
- Du G-J, Zhang Z, Wen X-D, et al. Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) Is the Most Effective Cancer Chemopreventive Polyphenol in Green Tea. Nutrients. 2012;4(11):1679-1691. doi:10.3390/nu4111679.
- Milkovic L, Siems W, Siems R, Zarkovic N. Oxidative stress and antioxidants in carcinogenesis and integrative therapy of cancer. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(42):6529-42.
- Lin J, Cook NR, Albert C, et al. Vitamins C and E and Beta Carotene Supplementation and Cancer Risk: A Randomized Controlled Trial. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2009;101(1):14-23. doi:10.1093/jnci/djn438.
- Sacco R, Eggenhoffner R, Giacomelli L. Glutathione in the treatment of liver diseases: insights from clinical practice. Minerva Gastroenterol Dietol. 2016;62(4):316-324.
- Zhu W, Wu Y, Meng Y-F, et al. Effect of curcumin on aging retinal pigment epithelial cells. Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 2015;9:5337-5344. doi:10.2147/DDDT.S84979.
- Superfoodly.com. (2017). ORAC Values: 2017 Food Antioxidant Database | Superfoodly. [online] Available at: https://www.superfoodly.com/orac-values/ [Accessed 16 Dec. 2017].
- Carter LG, D’Orazio JA, Pearson KJ. Resveratrol and cancer: focus on in vivo evidence. Endocrine-Related Cancer. 2014;21(3):R209-R225. doi:10.1530/ERC-13-0171.
- Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, Chandra N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2010;4(8):118-126. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902.
- Palace VP, Khaper N, Qin Q, Singal PK. Antioxidant potentials of vitamin A and carotenoids and their relevance to heart disease. Free Radic Biol Med. 1999;26(5-6):746-61.
- Rizvi S, Raza ST, Ahmed F, Ahmad A, Abbas S, Mahdi F. The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases. Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal. 2014;14(2):e157-e165.
- Giordano ME, Ingrosso I, Schettino T, Caricato R, Giovinazzo G, Lionetto MG. Intracellular Antioxidant Activity of Grape Skin Polyphenolic Extracts in Rat Superficial Colonocytes: In situ Detection by Confocal Fluorescence Microscopy. Frontiers in Physiology. 2016;7:177. doi:10.3389/fphys.2016.00177.
- Mullen W, Nemzer B, Ou B, et al. The antioxidant and chlorogenic acid profiles of whole coffee fruits are influenced by the extraction procedures. J Agric Food Chem. 2011;59(8):3754-62.
- Menon VP, Sudheer AR. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:105-25.