Are There Different Types of Antioxidants?

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More and more studies have been proving the many benefits that antioxidants can have, not only for the skin but also when it comes to a person’s overall health. This has led to an increasing number of people looking into the various antioxidants out there, but the depth of information available can sometimes be confusing.

One of the most common questions that people have when researching antioxidants is…

Are there different types of antioxidants?

To put it simply, yes. However, antioxidants can be classed into a variety of categories, whether this may be water-soluble versus lipid-soluble, or categories based on their varying molecular sizes.

While this may be the case, antioxidants can usually be classed into one of these five different types, some of which are found in nature and some of which are produced by the body itself.

Why Are Antioxidants So Important? 

Before taking a look at the different types of antioxidants, it is important for you to understand why antioxidants are key when it comes to a healthy body.

The story begins with free radicals…

Free radicals are unstable atoms. They are unstable because they only contain one electron. However, electrons prefer to be in pairs, which leads to the free radical atoms scavenging its nearby cells to try to steal an electron. This then causes so much damage to the cells, proteins and DNA around each free radical, turning those into free radicals too

The only way to stop this vicious cycle is with the use of antioxidants…

How do antioxidants help?

Antioxidants contain multiple spare electrons. When they come across a free radical in the body, they donate one of their spare electrons to that free radical, therefore healing it and neutralizing it. This stops the free radical from attacking the body, enabling it to function like a normal cell again.

Antioxidant donating electron to free radicals infographic

What causes free radicals to form in the first place?

There are so many different factors that can lead to this. From environment triggers, such as sun exposure and pollution, to lifestyle habits, such as smoking and eating a poor diet, free radicals are pretty much impossible to avoid.

This is why it is so important for you to incorporate plenty of antioxidants in your life, as this will go a long way in preventing the long-term damage that free radicals would have otherwise caused.

Antioxidant Vitamins

It is common knowledge that vitamins are needed for good health, and some of these vitamins also work as antioxidants too.

However, not all vitamins are antioxidants…

Some of the most powerful antioxidant vitamins include:

  • Vitamin A – from retinol to retinyl palmitate to retinoic acid, vitamin A is available in many different forms. These all have powerful antioxidant capabilities, not only fighting against free radicals but also supporting the immune system, the eyes, the bones and the skin
  • Vitamin C – otherwise known as ascorbic acid (although there are quite a few other forms of vitamin C out there), the body is not able to produce vitamin C on its own, making it important to incorporate enough of this antioxidant in your diet, as well as in your skin care routine
  • Vitamin E –  a fat-soluble antioxidant that the body stores and uses on an as-needed basis. Vitamin E significantly helps to slow down the aging process, and works hand-in-hand with vitamin C

Antioxidant Minerals

Just like with vitamins, only certain minerals have antioxidant properties.

The ones to be aware of include:

  • Copper – an essential nutrient that also acts as an antioxidant, research has shown that a deficiency in copper leads to cells being more prone to oxidative damage, especially from free radicals
  • Selenium – one of the most important antioxidant minerals, selenium has been proven to lower the amount of oxidative stress that the body is experiencing, while also calming inflammation and giving the immune system a big boost
  • Zinc – although there isn’t quite as much research surrounding the antioxidant properties of zinc, this important mineral is believed to have vital antioxidant properties. It also soothes inflammation and protects the body from a wide range of different health conditions, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes 

Antioxidant Phytonutrients

The antioxidant phytonutrients category is a big one.

Also known as phytochemicals, phytonutrients consist of thousands of different compounds, each one beneficial to the body in its own way.

What are phytonutrients?

They are chemicals that plants produce when they are under stress. These chemicals help the plants to protect themselves from free radicals, as well as other forms of environmental damage.

When you consume or use these phytonutrients topically, you gain all of the antioxidant properties of the plants that those phytonutrients have come from.

Infographic on food sources of phytonutrients

Antioxidant phytonutrients can be categorized further into different groups…

1) Carotenoids 

Carotenoids are pigments that give certain fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange and red colors.

While those colors may look quite similar to you, there are actually over 600 different types of carotenoids out there.

These are some of the most important:

  • Beta-Carotene – this gets converted by the body into vitamin A, which has already been discussed above as being a potent antioxidant. Beta-carotene is found in high concentrations in carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and papayas
  • Lycopene – a very powerful antioxidant, lycopene comes from red fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, red peppers and grapefruit
  • Lutein – this antioxidant is primarily used to support eye health, but it also protects against a number of different diseases, while also preventing the sun from causing too much skin damage

2) Flavonoids

Out of the many different types of phytonutrients, flavonoids are the largest group. There are over 6000 known flavonoids available, and each one of these is highly effective at neutralizing free radicals in the body.

Flavonoids are also known for their strong anti-inflammatory effects, and also have cancer prevention and brain protection properties.

Here are some of the different types of flavonoids out there:

  • Flavanols – these boost both mental and physical health. Some of the key flavonols to know about include quercetin, catechins and myricetin, and these can be found in everything from apples and berries to kale and tea
  • Anthocyanins – these provide plants with their blue, purple and red colors, with good sources of anthocyanins being grapes, berries, plums and aubergine. There are more than 600 anthocyanins currently known, and not only are all of these potent antioxidants, but they are also vital when it comes to protecting the body from a variety of different cancers
  • Isoflavones – these act as phytoestrogens, meaning that they have a positive effect on the estrogen that is already in your body. This means that isoflavones are effective at reducing cancer risks, while also relieving some of the common menopause symptoms. Good sources of isoflavones include soybeans and legumes, along with any foods that have been made from soy

3) Resveratrol

When certain plants experience stress, injury or a fungal infection, they produce resveratrol.

This antioxidant has been the focus of numerous studies since the early 1990’s, thanks to the many ways in which resveratrol can boost a person’s health. From treating cancer and cardiovascular disease to preventing the development of neurodegenerative diseases, resveratrol’s potential is so impressive. 

When it comes to its antioxidant properties, studies have found that resveratrol is highly effective at scavenging free radicals, while also improving the body’s own antioxidant defense system

Which foods can resveratrol be found in?

Good sources include blueberries, the skin of red grapes, red wine, cranberries and cocoa.

Antioxidant Enzymes 

The body produces a variety of antioxidant enzymes itself, but one of the most important is coenzyme q10, also known as CoQ10. 

What exactly is it?

It’s a compound that produces energy in each of your cells, while also speeding up the rate at which chemical reactions take place in the body. 

Although the body produces plenty of this while it is young, studies have found that a person’s levels of CoQ10 decrease quite rapidly with age.

Which foods contain this antioxidant enzyme?

You will find CoQ10 in foods such as whole grains, meat and fish. However, the amount of the enzyme within these foods is quite low, and will not be enough to have a noticeable difference on your body’s levels of CoQ10.

This is where supplements and topical products come in, which is something that will be discussed in more detail further down.

Antioxidant Hormones

There are several different hormones present in your body, and one of these is known for having powerful antioxidant properties.

Can you guess which hormone it is?

The answer is melatonin.

Not heard of melatonin before?

It is a hormone that is produced in the pineal gland of just about every animal out there, even in invertebrates. Melatonin is stimulated by your circadian rhythm, along with the environment. The body releases this hormone to regulate its sleep-wake cycles, which is why melatonin is often promoted as a natural sleep-inducing supplement.

Although melatonin was first discovered in 1958, it wasn’t until 1993 that its antioxidant properties were reported. This threw the hormone into the spotlight, with numerous studies being carried out to learn more about the antioxidant effects that melatonin can have.

Those studies were successful, with research showing that melatonin is twice as active as vitamin E when it comes to its antioxidant effects, and is also more powerful than vitamin C. Melatonin also increases the activity of the antioxidant enzymes in the body, strengthening the body’s defense system. 

Where to Get Your Antioxidants From

As mentioned above, each antioxidant is present in different foods, even those that the body produces itself.

The best way to nourish your body with these antioxidant is by consuming a healthy and balanced diet. This means that your diet should contain plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other whole foods, and a minimal amount of processed foods, refined carbs and sugars.

Of course, eating all of the above-mentioned foods can be difficult for some people. Plus, certain antioxidants, such as CoQ10, can’t be obtained in enough quantity from the food that you eat. Although dietary sources of antioxidants tend to be best, this, unfortunately, is not possible for everyone.

This is where supplements come in…

There are so many different antioxidant supplements available, and these do help to provide your body with more of these essential nutrients.

However, you do need to be careful when taking antioxidant supplements.

Why?

It all comes down to dosage…

Research has found that certain antioxidants can be quite dangerous if you take too much of them. Vitamin C is an example of this, with a 1998 study finding that higher-than-recommended concentrations of vitamin C can actually result in the production of even more free radicals.  

Other vitamin antioxidants, such as vitamins A, E and K, can also be harmful when taken at doses that are too high.

Of course, you can also nourish your body with antioxidants topically. Everything from serums to creams to face masks are now being packed with a wide range of antioxidants, and these will all enter into your skin when applied topically.

Since antioxidants have so many skin-boosting benefits, this is a great way to improve the health of your skin. Although the antioxidants you consume will do this too, they do have to go through a number of different processes in your body before they are delivered to your skin cells. Applying them topically skips these steps, enabling your skin to directly reap their benefits.

When seeking out skin care products that contain antioxidants, make sure that you take a look at the ingredients list to see which specific antioxidants have been included. Ideally, these should be as high up on the ingredients list as possible, as this means that the product contains a high enough concentration of these antioxidants for them to actually have an impact. A good example is the 24K Vitamin C collection, which features the antioxidant-vitamin C as a key ingredient. 

It is so important to be aware of the different types of antioxidants out there, especially if you are looking to use these nutrients to boost a certain aspect of your health. Remember, antioxidants can be found in just about every whole food out there, so incorporating more of these into your diet is a great way to keep your antioxidant levels topped up.