“Antioxidant” is a word you’ve likely heard when it comes to health and the immune system, but do you really know what it means — and, more importantly, what antioxidants do?
Antioxidants are substances that fight free radicals, or compounds that can cause damage to cells in the body. Basically, antioxidants act like scavengers that find free radicals and neutralize them. This is important because high levels of free radicals can contribute to oxidative stress and are associated with a variety of illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers (Medical News Today, 2018).
You might be wondering what causes free radicals and, ultimately, oxidative stress in the body. It can be induced by inflammation, alcohol consumption, use of tobacco, pollution, UV exposure and more. Thus, the key becomes preventing and slowing damage caused by oxidative stress, and this is where antioxidants can help! Antioxidants are found in nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other whole foods, as well as proteins, such as lean meat, salmon, dairy-based foods and more. These foods contain nutrients like vitamins A, E and C; groups of antioxidants, like flavonoids and anthocyanins, among others; plant compounds, such as polyphenols, catechins and more; and minerals like selenium — all of which play a role in keeping the body healthy, resilient and strong (Medical News Today, 2018).
Selenium acts as a strong antioxidant that helps reduce oxidative stress throughout the body. This creates a domino effect: reducing oxidative stress in the body decreases DNA damage and helps strengthen the immune system, which then empowers the body to destroy dangerous cells (Radiation Oncology, 2014). There is research that suggests that selenium is important in fighting a variety of health conditions, including asthma, heart disease and declines in mental health.
Asthma is a chronic condition that results in the narrowing of airways, which can lead to symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing as airways constrict. While asthma is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation, it has been found that selenium can help reduce symptoms in patients suffering from asthma (Mol Aspects Med, 2012).
A diet rich in selenium can provide protective properties for the heart. Selenium-rich foods accomplish this by decreasing oxidative stress, as well as helping to decrease or prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. In addition, a review article of 16 well-controlled studies evaluating 433,000 people with heart disease found that taking selenium supplements decreased levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP), indicating the positive impact selenium can have on heart disease (J Trace Elem Med Biol, 2017).
Research suggests that selenium might also help you stay mentally fit. Oxidative stress is believed to be involved in the beginning and the progression of cognitive decline and other neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Some studies have found that consuming antioxidants like selenium in both food and supplements may improve memory in patients with cognitive decline (Am J Clin Nutr., 2011).
As you look for ways to keep your body healthy, it is evident that antioxidants can help! From reducing cellular damage and protecting the heart to helping with asthma and neurological diseases and more, selenium plays a vital role in supporting overall health and well-being.