Antioxidants are one of the immune system’s weapons that it uses to protect the body against oxidative damage from free radicals (molecules that can damage cell membranes and DNA). Antioxidants do this by moving through the cells seeking out free radicals and stabilising them by donating an electron and stopping the harmful chain reaction. The beauty of an antioxidant is that it doesn’t then become a free radical because it oxides itself.
Antioxidants either prevent the chain reaction from starting, or they stop it after it’s started. For example, vitamin C can stop the chain reaction before it starts by trapping the free radical and neutralising it, while vitamin E is a chain-breaking antioxidant. Some of the main antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene (vitamin A).
The body can’t naturally produce these special micronutrients so they must come from our diets and, in this day and age, we need as many antioxidants in our diets as possible. However, we can’t just eat ten servings of broccoli a day and expect that to provide us with all the antioxidants we need. Instead we need to eat fruits and vegetables, legumes, mushrooms, whole grains, seeds, nuts and oily fish that all contain different types of antioxidants that are used for different purposes and work in different tissues of the body and in different parts of cells.
Vitamins and minerals gained from whole foods are more effective than the ones gained from supplements. Each antioxidant has a different impact on your immune health. Some important antioxidants to include are:
Vitamin C is a immune system booster bar none. It is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It’s involved in many body functions, making it essential for health. This powerful antioxidant protects your cells from free radicals – the molecules that damage cell tissue and DNA which then leads to premature ageing and possibly cancer. It is also very useful in reducing inﬂammation.
Good sources of vitamin C: citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, green peppers, strawberries, dark leafy greens, cantaloupe melon, watermelon, cauliflower, red peppers, blueberries, squash
BETA-CAROTENE & VITAMIN A
Carotenoids can be potent antioxidants. One of the famous carotenoids is beta-carotene and turns into vitamin A in the body. It strengthens your immune system, helps you see better in dim light and it keeps your skin healthy. It is also an effective anti-inﬂammatory agent.
Sources of vitamin A: sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, pumpkin and other orange, red, yellow and dark green fruits and veggies
Vitamin E is important for a strong immune system, healthy skin, eyes and nervous system. This powerful antioxidant protects cell membranes by breaking free radical chain reactions. Free radicals cause oxidative stress which leads to damaged cells which then leads to premature ageing, heart disease and cancer.
Sources of vitamin E : nuts, vegetable oils, such as olive and soya, fish oils, fish, nuts and seeds, eggs, whole grains, avocados, apricots, green leafy vegetables like spinach and swiss chard.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is critical in helping your immune system do its job of fighting infection and keeping you healthy and protecting your body from disease. It is responsible for the prevention of ageing, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sources of glutathione: sulfur-rich foods such as garlic, onions and the brassica vegetables like broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, cauliflower, watercress and avocado.
Polyphenols are a large class of phytonutrients found in most plants. There are over 4,000 polyphenol compounds, many are powerful antioxidants that can neutralise free radicals, reduce inflammation and slow the growth of tumours.
Sources of polyphenols: nearly all fruits and vegetables, especially berries, grapes, and greens, along with olives, cocoa, red wine and green and black tea
Selenium is a trace metal that helps the body’s antioxidant enzyme systems function properly. It helps strengthen the immune system and when taken with other antioxidants like beta carotene, vitamins E and C, its very effective in stopping free radicals doing their nasty work.
Sources of selenium: fish (tuna, sardines, salmon, shrimp and cod), mushrooms (crimini and Shiitake) and nuts (almond and brazil nuts) and sunflower seeds
Zinc helps the immune and digestive systems run properly, reduces of stress levels, boost your metabolism and help heal wounds faster. Zinc is mostly found in the strongest muscles of the body and is found in especially high concentrations in the white and red blood cells, eye retina, skin, liver, kidneys, bones and pancreas. Zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, eye and skin lesions, diarrhea and weight loss.
Sources of zinc: nuts, seeds,legumes, spinach, mushrooms and whole grains (oats)