Now-a-days we hear a lot of talk about the amazing health benefits of antioxidants.
However, is this really true? If yes, what are these health benefits? Can antioxidants prevent me from getting a deadly disease like cancer? Can it help my friend already suffering from cancer?
To clear these doubts let us take a quick brief look here.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants also known as “free radical scavengers”, are chemicals that are used by the body to neutralize highly reactive chemicals called free radicals. These free radicals have the potential to harm normal cells.
Thus, damage caused by these free radicals can be prevented with the use of these antioxidants. There are two types of antioxidants:
- Endogenous antioxidants: Made by the body (within the body)
- Exogenous antioxidants: Derived from external sources, i.e. diet. This diet includes fruits, vegetables, grainIt also includes dietary nutritional supplements like antioxidants, beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E (alpha-tocopherol) and minerals like selenium.
Free Radicals and Cancer: a Deep Rooted Relationship
Essential free radicals which are required for normal cellular processes, are formed naturally in the body.
They can however prove to be hazardous to the body, causing damage to all major components of the cells, including DNA, proteins, and cell membranes when present in large quantities.
Damage to the DNA by these free radicals causes cancer and other health conditions. Ionizing radiation and other environmental toxins like smoke, some metals, and high-oxygen atmosphere produce free radicals.
This can stimulate the body cells to produce a large amount of free oxygen radicals. Ultimately abnormally high concentrations of free radicals are formed in the body.
The most common type of free radicals produced in living tissue are free radicals, which contain the element oxygen. This type of free radical is known as “reactive oxygen species,” or “ROS”.
Antioxidants and Cancer
Uncontrolled growth of cells due to various risk factors and reasons can cause cancer.
Cancers are majorly linked to a high rate of reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS can be neutralized by anti-oxidants.
Thus, anti-oxidants play an important role in prevention and management of cancers.
Which Food Stuffs are Rich in Antioxidants?
Fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, nuts, and grains are a rich source of antioxidants. Some common food sources rich in antioxidants are listed below.
The sources of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), are mainly citrus fruits and green-red-yellow vegetables. The most commonly researched vitamin for its effects on cancer treatment and prevention is vitamin C.
A tumor generally requires low or no-oxygen conditions for its growth. Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant by eliminating the ROS elevated in most cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), vitamin C provides protection against cancer of the oral cavity, stomach, breast, lung cancer and esophagus.
Risk of developing rectal, pancreatic, and cervical cancer is reduced by the use of Vitamin C.
Vitamin E is a collective term for Vitamin produced mainly by plants. It is found in abundance in wheat germ oil, safflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oils, and also in other foods like mangoes, nuts (almonds), broccoli, etc.
It has 8 fat-soluble anti-oxidants which include alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol; and alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienol. It helps in cancer prevention by reducing the production of ROS, thereby preventing damage to the DNA. Thus, mutations are prevented.
In Cowden Syndrome, where there is a greater risk of breast and thyroid cancer, Vitamin E supplementation can slow or even stop cell damage. For patients undergoing chemotherapy, the anti-oxidant property of vitamin E helps to reduce free radical damage.
Research shows evidence of the protective action of Vitamin E against prostate, lung and colorectal cancer.
The source of beta-carotene is mainly orange colored foods, and this includes pumpkin, carrots, squash, apricots, sweet potatoes, mangos, and cantaloupe.
Rich sources of beta-carotene are green leafy vegetables like collard kale, greens, and spinach. White blood cells in the immune system which block cell-damaging free radicals are enhanced by beta-carotene. This may help in the prevention of certain cancers.
Selenium is a mineral. The source of selenium is plant foods like rice, wheat, bread, meat of animals that eat grains or plants grown in selenium-rich soil.
Research has shown that selenium can help in preventing cancer by decreasing cell multiplication, promoting cell cycle arrest, and destroying the cancer cells. Selenium reduces the risk of prostate cancer.
There is a mixed opinion about selenium, hence further research is needed.
Rich sources of lutein are a type of carotenoid found in egg yolk and green, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, kale. Lutein causes neutralization of free radicals (unstable molecules) associated with oxidative stress. It helps in the prevention of breast and lung cancer chiefly.
The rich sources of lycopene are pink grapefruit, tomatoes, papaya, watermelon, guava, apricots, etc.
The antioxidant property of lycopene helps in inhibiting cell growth, and helps in damaging cancerous cells proliferation, induces apoptosis and decreases the metastatic capacity of prostate cancer cells.
When your body is not able to receive certain nutrients in adequate amounts, use dietary supplements. Undue use of antioxidants may have unintended side effects.
However, in cases of undiagnosed cancer and heavy smoking, it can prove to be harmful.
Drugs are tested for their safety and effectiveness by the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before marketing, which is not true in the case of nutritional supplements.
So do not purchase every product labeled as being “natural” or “organic” as it might not be necessarily safe.
So even if you feel tempted to buy nutritional products, think twice before buying as you may land up buying something that is not safe or effective.
Read Next : Can You Prevent Cancer With Healthy Lifestyle?
Some of the Proven Strategies which Help to Reduce the Risk of Cancer:
- Limit high-calorie foods and follow a habit of regular physical activity.
- At least two thirds of your plate should be covered by fruits and vegetables.
- Red meat and processed meat (hot dogs, sausages, bologna, etc.) should be avoided.
- Foods made up of whole grains should be consumed.
If you follow these habits, you can ensure you are receiving all nutrients in adequate quantities and thereby averting the risk of cancer.
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