Antioxidants: what are they and why do we need them?


Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. They are constantly being produced in the body. Free radicals are compounds that are linked to chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Depending on the immune system, the body has its own antioxidant mechanisms to keep free radicals in check. The best sources of antioxidants are fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. Several vitamins, such as vitamins E and C, are effective antioxidants. Antioxidants are the body’s guard against free radicals. Without them, serious health problems or even death occur.

However, free radicals have also important functions. Immune cells use free radicals to fight infections. Thus, it is important to maintain a balance of free radicals and antioxidants.

When free radicals are more than antioxidants, the result is oxidative stress. The body could not tolerate prolonged oxidative stress. This can cause damage in the DNA and other important molecules in the body. In the worst case, it could end up to cell death.

Damage to the DNA may lead to premature ageing and could increase the risk of cancer. Environmental pollution, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, sugary foods, bacterial or viral infections, stress and toxins are the precursors of oxidative stress and excessive radical formation.


Antioxidants in foods

The body generates its own antioxidants, such as the cellular antioxidant glutathione. Since plants and animals have their own defenses against free radicals and oxidative damage, all whole foods of plant and animal origin are good sources of antioxidants. Human life depends on the intake of certain antioxidants — namely, vitamins C and E. Most plants provide a variety of antioxidants. Therefore, plant-based diets are considered the healthier diet (Philip J Tuso, Mohamed H Ismail, Benjamin P Ha, Carole Bartolotto Perm J. 2013 Spring; 17(2): 61–66.)

However, many other non-essential antioxidants occur in food. While they are unnecessary for your body, they play an important role in general health.

Meat products and fish also contain antioxidants, but to a lesser extent than fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidants can increase the shelf life of both natural and processed foods. Therefore, they are frequently used as food additives. For instance, vitamin C is often added to processed foods to act as a preservative.


Antioxidants in Bamboo

Bamboo leaf extract is rich in natural antioxidants. A recent study of the Department of Science and Technology -Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) based in UP Los Banos completed by the team of Ms. Mariluz SP Dionglay, shows that the leaves of the bamboo species “Kauayan-Tinik” (Bambusa blumeana J.A. & J.H. Schultes) provide excellent sources of natural antioxidants and antimicrobials and its potential as raw materials for medicines and nutritional supplements. Their antioxidant property is comparable with ascorbic acid considered as standard. Quoting Ms. Rebecca B. Lapuz on the research (FPRDI, April, 2020)

“Among the five species, Kauayan-Tinik was the most promising. Kauayan-tinik leaves extracted with water had the highest antioxidant level compared with bolo, giant bamboo, kauayan-kiling and buho, aside from showing antimicrobial action against the two bacteria species studied.”