Nine benefits of antioxidants: From disease prevention to healthy aging

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What are the benefits of antioxidants? From blueberries to pumpkin, and beyond, there are many antioxidant-rich foods. Although the word antioxidant may be a bit of a mystery, what antioxidants do in the body is straightforward. An antioxidant is a compound that inhibits oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce chain reactions and free radicals, and therefore has the potential of doing damage to the body’s cells.

You may already be familiar with some of the most important antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids like beta-carotene. Most of the antioxidant rich foods in which you find them – especially in high quantities – are fruits, vegetables and other naturally occurring plant foods. Berries, carrots, coffee, red grapes, green tea, turmeric, onions, peppers, avocados, radishes, kale and lemon are all great foods to consume in order to get your daily dose.

But what does your daily dose do? Even the knowledge that antioxidants are good for you and how they function in the body to benefit you isn’t enough to say precisely what sensations and improvements they are responsible for. So here are nine benefits of getting your daily serving of antioxidants.

1. They reduce oxidative stress

Oxidative stress is a form of physiological stress caused by an imbalance between the production and accumulation of oxygen-reactive species in the cells and tissue. This can result in a gap in a system’s ability to detoxify reactive products. While this may seem abstract, research shows that oxidative stress can be responsible for the onset of diseases like cancer, diabetes, metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. By consuming antioxidants you can prevent that state of oxidative stress, which can set you up for success in many areas of your health.

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2. They support disease prevention

Most of the disease-prevention capabilities associated with antioxidants are also related to oxidative stress. A report in Research in Pharmaceutical Sciences (opens in new tab)shows that by reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants can support normal cellular function and offer additional protection against diseases. Antioxidants have been linked to lower rates of cancer, tumors, diabetes, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders in many cases. Although research is ongoing, the outlook on their impact is positive.

3. They support eye health

Introducing more antioxidant rich foods into your diet can have a particularly effective impact on your risk for certain major eye concerns, specifically, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. In fact, a 2013 study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging (opens in new tab) found that it may also slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Beta-carotene and vitamin E are also quite well known for these properties. 

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4. They aid in brain function

Did you know that due to the amount of oxygen the brain uses in daily functioning through naturally high metabolic activity, it is more susceptible than most of the body’s other systems to free radical attack? One of the major ways you can protect your brain against this attack is by consuming antioxidants. Specifically, antioxidants have the potential to delay various forms of cognitive decline, like memory loss. This is all related to oxidative stress, too, which can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss and decline in cognitive function. 

5. They can contribute to mental health improvements

Brain health and mental health are different from one another, but antioxidants can lend both a helping hand. Research in Current Neuropharmacology (opens in new tab)shows that oxidative stress is often related to anxiety and depression. Although eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes a rich array of antioxidants isn’t a replacement for proper mental health medication or care, it is among the lifestyle changes that can be of help to plenty of individuals.

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6. They can reduce inflammation

Inflammation often gets a bad rap, but it’s not always negative or concerning. In fact, inflammation serves an important purpose in the body, within reason. Inflammation is the process of your white blood cells protecting you against infections from outside the body, such as bacteria. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always comfortable, or necessary.

Inflammation can manifest in a variety of symptoms, including headaches, joint and muscle pain. The way that antioxidants prevent inflammation is relatively simple; as they protect the cells from damage, they can prevent those unwanted inflammatory responses from occurring at all.

7. They support healthy aging processes

Amid claims that a diet rich in antioxidants can slow, prevent or even reverse the aging process, it’s time to set the record straight. There’s nothing that can scientifically disrupt the aging process. However, there is evidence to suggest that antioxidants can support a healthy aging process. From the mental elements of improving memory and preventing Alzheimer’s, to general disease prevention (and even playing a vital role in the bone remodeling process), antioxidants can work to keep the body protected and agile throughout the aging process.

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8. They can keep the skin healthy

Antioxidants can contribute to healthy aging on the inside, and they can also do the same on the outside. By helping to fight free radical damage, antioxidants can offer extra protection for the skin. Not only can the prevention of inflammation help to ward off things like redness, puffiness, and premature aging, but antioxidants can also protect against UV sun damage (which causes premature aging and wrinkles).

One of the most common and effective antioxidants for skin care is vitamin C. Vitamin C can help reverse and prevent discoloration, as well as aid in collagen production. And one of the best ways to use vitamin C for the skin is to apply it topically. This is why so many skin and face products contain vitamin C. In skin care products, you’ll often see it listed as L-ascorbic acid and/or ester-C.

9. They participate in a healthy gut microbiome

Your gut health has the potential to impact your body from head to toe. Everything from your mental health to your skin can be affected by the state of your gut microbiome and it really is a microbiome — complete with healthy bacteria that keeps everything in balance.

Research in the journal Antioxidants (opens in new tab)shows that antioxidants can reduce intestinal oxidative stress levels by modulating the composition of beneficial microbial species within the gut. This can help to provide a strong and balanced foundation for your gut health. Antioxidants are just one part of a healthy, balanced diet and they can give you a boost from the inside out – as if you needed another reason to eat your fruits and veggies!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

Jamie Kahn is a Brooklyn-based journalist, editor, and certified yoga instructor whose work has been featured in HuffPost, Epiphany Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Far Out Magazine, Atwood Magazine, and Live Science. She serves as the contributing features editor for Epiphany Magazine.