It’s no exaggeration to say that antioxidants are some of the most important guardians of optimal health.
Antioxidants help protect against everything from aging to cancer. We’ve revealed how antioxidants are one of the most common components that give healing foods their therapeutic properties—foods like honey, bee pollen, broccoli, tart cherries, goji berries, horseradish, lemons, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, cordyceps mushroom, reishi mushrooms, beets, turmeric, ginger, and dark leafy greens (just to name a few) are all overflowing with beneficial antioxidants.
The wildly diverse healing properties of antioxidants boil down to a simple mechanism: oxidative stress is one of the key underlying factors behind nearly all health problems and ageing, and by keeping it at bay, antioxidants prevent disease at its root.
Consuming lots of antioxidant-rich foods and optimizing your endogenous antioxidant levels with proper supplementation and lifestyle practices are some of the wisest choices you can make for your health.
The benefits of reducing oxidative stress in the body are endless, but here’s one fascinating, study-backed example:
the prevention of skin cancer.
The link between oxidative stress and skin cancer
A multitude of studies have correlated the proliferation of cancer cells (which are the body’s own cells that have differentiated incorrectly) with high levels of oxidative stress. Researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway, the Brussels Central Hospital, and the Hospital Vesale Experimental Medicine Laboratory at Free University of Brussels have demonstrated that skin cancer is no exception.
In these studies, researchers measured various markers of oxidative stress and antioxidant levels in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (one of the most deadly varieties of skin cancer). Here’s what they found.
Glutathione levels. Glutathione is the body’s “master” antioxidant, and thus is the body’s most important tool for scavenging free radicals (the byproducts of oxidative stress). Researchers can therefore accurately measure oxidative stress levels by examining the ratio between reduced glutathione and oxidized glutathione. A healthy system should be comprised of at least 98% reduced glutathione. In the studies mentioned above, the patients’ tumor tissues had significantly lower levels of reduced glutathione (meaning that there is a connection between a cell’s free radical scavenging ability and the likelihood that it will turn cancerous).
Total antioxidant levels. Similarly, researchers also measured total antioxidant levels in skin cancer patients through various markers, including total antioxidant capacity, glutathione redux potential, total glutathione levels (throughout the body, as opposed to within the tumor cells), total cysteine levels, and dietary antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocopherols, and ascorbic acid. All of these markers were lower in skin cancer patients than in healthy individuals.
Signs of oxidative stress. The correlation between antioxidant levels and skin cancer risk was also demonstrated conversely by measuring the acute markers of oxidative stress in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas. Both blood and tissue biomarkers were significantly higher across the board, especially levels of total hyperoxides. Oxidative stress biomarkers were further worsened when patients received radiation therapy. This is just one reason why radiation and chemotherapy are barbaric and inefficient cancer treatments—while they will kill cancer cells, they simultaneously worsen the very underlying factors that lead to the proliferation of cancer in the first place. Cancer prevention (and treatment) should be about supporting the body, not attacking it.
How to give your life an antioxidant boost
As we eluded to above, optimizing your antioxidant levels boils down to the three lifestyle principles.
Eat an antioxidant-rich diet. A nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich diet is an absolute cornerstone of optimal health. Start with lots of fruits and vegetables (especially dark berries and dark leafy greens), avoid processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats, and add in antioxidant superfoods like coconut oil, turmeric, raw cacao (not candy bars), and the other foods linked to at the beginning of this article. Try not to worry so much about macronutrient ratios (carbs, fats, and proteins); listen to what your body needs, and stick with foods that are universally healthy (despite what macronutrient category they happen to fall in).
Supplement with glutathione. As we discussed above, glutathione is the body’s most important antioxidant. It was previously believed that glutathione levels cannot be raised through oral supplementation, but new advances in formulation methodology have now made it possible—this means that it’s never been easier to optimize your glutathione levels. While supplementation is not a substitute for the lifestyle practices recommended in this article, it can help take disease prevention to a whole new level.
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