You may already know that antioxidants are linked to many different health benefits. But did you know that they might also improve gut health? And having a healthy gut is key to your overall health.
Let’s take a look at what antioxidants are, how they work, why they’re important, and how they might be able to boost the strength of your gut.
Antioxidants in Brief
Before we discuss how antioxidants can improve gut health, it’s important to know exactly what antioxidants are in the first place. These substances help defend your body from the negative effects of something called “oxidation.”
Oxidation is a natural process that occurs not only all around you, but inside your body too. When you see a piece of rusted metal, or wood burning in your fireplace, those are examples of oxidation at work. Oxidation is necessary in order for the body to function properly.1
But oxidation can also cause major problems – and it can damage the cells that make up your tissues in a process called “oxidative stress.” Oxidation creates molecules known as free radicals. These molecules are missing an electron, and they search throughout your body looking for it.
If your body has too many free radicals, your risk of major illness may also increase.2
Nutrients are Natural Antioxidants
This is where antioxidants come in. Found in foods, as well as supplements, antioxidants help combat the damage caused by free radicals. They give free radicals the electrons they’re looking for, and help protect you from damage in the process.
Many nutrients are natural antioxidants, including vitamins A and C. Minerals, such as zinc and copper, are also antioxidants. Lutein, an antioxidant found in corn and spinach, may help support eye health. Another group of antioxidants, known as flavonoids, may play a role in supporting a healthy heart.3
Polyphenols as Antioxidants
Flavonoids are polyphenols – compounds that help give plants their characteristic colors. For example, polyphenols are what make strawberries red and blueberries blue. They serve much more than an aesthetic purpose, however. Polyphenols have been linked to many health benefits. They may help lower bad cholesterol levels, and they may help delay some of the signs of aging.4,5
How Antioxidants May Improve Gut Health
Evidence suggests the benefits of antioxidants also reach all the way inside the “gut,” or gastrointestinal tract. As a result, they could improve gut health significantly. The “gut microbiome” is the environment inside your gastrointestinal tract. It’s made up of gut flora, or microbes. The gut flora includes beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, as well as harmful bacteria, and other microbes. When the harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial ones, digestive issues could result.6
Research shows that antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, help to stimulate the growth of probiotics. They may also inhibit the development of harmful bacteria.
Raspberries, coffee, apples, and red wine are just some of the antioxidant-rich foods and drinks that can promote the production of probiotics.7 Scientific evidence also indicates that the relationship between antioxidants and probiotics could be a two-way street of sorts.
It appears that beneficial microbes can also help ensure that your body uses antioxidants properly.8
Work With Prebiotics
Another way antioxidants can improve gut health is by working with prebiotics – microbes that act as a food source for probiotics. You’ll find them in many different types of high-fiber foods, including beans, lentils, and leafy greens. Your body can’t digest prebiotics, but probiotic bacteria can.9
Scientists believe that antioxidants, prebiotics, and probiotics work together to strengthen their respective benefits. Basically, they do more working together than they could by working separately.10
Protect Your Gut
Research also suggests that antioxidants may help protect the epithelial cells that form the lining of your gut. These cells are extremely important. They are designed to let nutrients enter the gastrointestinal tract while keeping out harmful substances, including pathogenic microbes, or bits of undigested food.11 One study shows that antioxidants can help protect you against the dangerous H. pylori bacterium. This microbe can destroy the cells that make up your gut lining, making you more susceptible to a wide range of potential health problems.12
How to Increase Your Supply of Antioxidants
Incorporating more foods that boost your body’s supply of antioxidants may help to improve your gut health. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the foods you should consider adding to your dietary regimen – as long as your doctor says it’s safe to do so. You should never make any sudden changes to your diet without first checking with a medical professional.
To get more antioxidants, enjoy these foods:
- Dark chocolate
- Red cabbage
These foods are not only packed with antioxidants that can improve gut health – but they have also been associated with other substantial health benefits. For example:
- Studies show that consuming the cocoa in dark chocolate could help boost heart health.14
- Pecans have been shown to play a role in helping to reduce levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or “bad” cholesterol.15
- Strawberries contain anthocyanins, antioxidants that may also help to reduce LDL levels.16
- Red cabbage is a great source of the antioxidant vitamin C. This vitamin helps keep skin healthy, and it can also support your immune system.17,18
Good for the Gut
As you can see, there is substantial evidence that antioxidants are good for the gut – as well as the rest of your body. By working in conjunction with probiotics and prebiotics, antioxidants can help deliver significant benefits to your gastrointestinal tract. Even better, you’ll find antioxidants in a wide variety of delicious foods and beverages.
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