If you follow trends and advice in the health and fitness industry, then you likely know that antioxidants are an important aspect of overall health. As the name implies, antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow oxidation, or oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress has been linked to a number of negative health conditions, such as:
- Heart disease
- Immune deficiency
- Respiratory diseases
- Other inflammatory conditions
Aside from preventing all the negative results of oxidative stress, one of the lesser-known roles that antioxidants play in the body is support of the immune system. In this blog, we’ll dive into why antioxidants are critical for supporting the immune system, and some of my favorite sources of antioxidants.
Antioxidants and Immunity
So how can antioxidants support your immune system? It turns out that oxidation-related tissue injury and exposure to free radicals is a particular hazard to the immune system.
Because antioxidants can effectively destroy free radicals, they protect the structural integrity of cells and tissues throughout the body, including immune cells. Therefore, healthy amounts of neutralizing antioxidants are actually necessary for preventing damage to immune cells themselves.
Studies have found that antioxidant intake is a key part of achieving immunity and overall health regardless of age:
“There is evidence that antioxidant nutrients can modify cell-mediated immune responses in younger individuals. Indeed, it might be essential to have an adequate intake of antioxidant nutrients from an early age in order to help prevent the development of, or at least delay the onset of, several degenerative disorders.” (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10343344)
Other recent trials have found that antioxidant supplementation can significantly improve certain immune responses. Supplementation with antioxidants can also protect immune responses in individuals exposed to certain environmental sources of free radicals.
Food Sources of Antioxidants
Now that we know how important antioxidants are, how can we make sure we’re getting healthy amounts of them?
The simplest way is to eat more fruits and vegetables. In particular, foods with rich, vibrant colors tend to be very rich in antioxidants. Flavonoids, flavones, catechins, and polyphenols are all examples of antioxidants and phytonutrients found in plant-based foods.
However, it’s important not to rely on just a single antioxidant rich food. Each antioxidant serves a specific function and is not necessarily interchangeable with another. It’s important to have a varied diet, and varied antioxidant sources.
For example, a few foods high in antioxidants are:
- Goji berries
As mentioned earlier, supplementation with antioxidants has been found to support healthy immune responses. If you don’t feel you’re getting enough antioxidants from your diet, or want to err on the side of getting more, the following are my favorite all natural, antioxidant-rich supplements.
Chaga is chock full of antioxidants. Its rich black color comes from its high concentration of melanin, a pigment extremely high in polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidants famous for boosting immunity.
Chaga easily takes first prize on this list because it actually has the highest ORAC score of any natural food. The Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, or ‘ORAC’ scale is a way of measuring how rich a particular food is in antioxidants. Chaga ranks higher than goji, acai, and many other antioxidant rich foods.
Chaga also contains superoxide dismutase, a specific antioxidant that neutralizes damage done by free radicals, protects against disease, and encourages a healthy ageing process.
Spirulina is actually a type of blue-green algae rich in vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and antioxidants.
One of Spirulina’s active components is called phycocyanin, and it’s also the antioxidant responsible for giving spirulina its unique blue-green color.
Phycocyanin fights free radicals and inhibits production of inflammatory signaling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
To understand how rich He Shou Wu is in antioxidants, let’s talk for a moment about resveratrol.
Resveratrol is a popular antioxidant in the health world because of its presence in red wine. We have all seen the “Drink Red Wine and Live an Extra Year!” type articles - these articles linking health benefits to red wine are almost all referring to its resveratrol content.
For every glass of wine, you get about 0.12-0.27mg of resveratrol. The stilbene content of red wine has been shown to be only about 4.37mg per liter.
In contrast, the Hyperion Herbs extract of he shou wu actually contains 8% stilbene content, meaning that in just a half teaspoon, you are getting 160mg of a more potent, higher quality stilbene than the mere 4.37mg of resveratrol that is found in red wine.
Not only is he shou wu high in antioxidants, it also supports deep sleep, digestive health, and protects against inflammation.
Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, fight free radicals, and support immune system health. To get more antioxidants in your life, the easiest approach is to include more fruits and vegetables into your diet (especially plant foods that are dark and rich in color).
But if you truly want next-level antioxidant support, there are some excellent, all natural supplements out there, such as chaga, spirulina, and he shou wu.
Thanks for reading!