In one of our previous articles about the key benefits of cactus water, we touched on antioxidants in cactus water, but given their importance for our general health and well-being, Antioxidants deserve their own space. But before we dive deep into the story of antioxidants as our body’s defenders, we first need to look into the bad guys – free radicals. 👹
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are not entirely bad. Wait, what? I thought these were the bad guys? The body actually releases a small number of free radicals from our immune cells to fight infection. When left unchecked, free radicals can become a dangerous villain if they reach an uncontrollable level and left to operate freely. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron and have the power to damage all kinds of molecules in our body, including our DNA, proteins, cell, etc. But what causes free radicals to run rampant?
Well, sorry to break it to you, but free radicals are caused by pretty much everything we humans enjoy or can’t seem to get away from – a combination of our lifestyle, stress, the food we eat, and many environmental factors. Here’s a list of the things that cause free radicals:
sunlight (another reason to slather that SPF)
foods containing refined sugar 🍰 (nobody said this would be a fun list…)
processed food, including meat
toxins (including those found in cleaning supplies)
Too many free radicals in the body (or rather the imbalance between free radicals and our superheroes, antioxidants) will lead to oxidative stress.
Consistent oxidative stress plays a role in the development of many common medical conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, atherosclerosis, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, aging, neurological and age-related disorders like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and even certain types of cancers.
What Are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are our body's internal defenders: the molecules that are generous enough to donate one of their electrons to stabilize or neutralize the free radical. Antioxidants are able to prevent oxidative stress and reduce the damage to vital molecules. In other words, antioxidants act as our body’s defense system, a team of heroes who are on constant alert and on a mission to destroy free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.
There are 4 different types of antioxidants that each protect our body for a different purpose and found in different foods:
1. Preventative Antioxidants (AKA the first line of defense): Found in natural green foods like spinach, okra, asparagus, or avocados, antioxidants such as Glutathione suppress the formation of free radicals, thereby preventing oxidative damage from occurring in the first place.
2. Scavenging Antioxidants (AKA Agents), such as vitamin C, flavonoids, and betalains, seek and destroy free radicals by interrupting certain reactions in the body. The beauty of prickly pears is that they contain these super important scavenging antioxidants. Other functional foods with betalains include beets and red dragon fruit, but, only prickly pears contain all 24 types of betalains. 💪🏽
3. Repair & De Novo Antioxidants (AKA The Fixers): The antioxidants that help to repair the DNA and proteins damaged by the free radicals.
4. Adaptation Antioxidants (AKA The Managers): Act as a signal to the appropriate antioxidants to move to the places in the body where free radicals are causing oxidative damage.
How many antioxidants do you need?
As we age, our body’s natural defenses against free radicals get weaker. That’s why it’s important to make changes to your diet to incorporate antioxidant-rich foods. But how many antioxidants do we need and why is there this imbalance in the first place?
A recent video from Nutrition Facts explained this in great detail. Before the era of processed foods, most of the foods that we ate were “whole foods” that were naturally sourced, coupled with natural antioxidants. An example being fruits, which, although high in sugar, contain certain potent antioxidants. That’s how our bodies maintain balance - through our diet.
But, as we started eating more and more processed food and meat and reduced the intake of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables and fruit, all coupled with increased pollution and other external sources of free radicals, our stores of antioxidants became depleted.
That’s why it's so crucial we eat foods high in antioxidants with every meal.
3 Main Antioxidant Benefits in Cactus Water
Prickly pears are considered a food with the most antioxidants such as betalains, polyphenols, flavonoids, and vitamin C. They contain twice the antioxidant capacity of popular fruits such as strawberries, apples, and tomatoes and comparable antioxidants to oranges, grapefruits, and red wine. Prickly pears also have more vitamin C than apples, grapes, and bananas.
1. Promote skin health
Cactus water provides many benefits for the skin. The vitamin C in cactus water eliminates free radicals in the skin produced by harmful UV rays and environmental pollutants. Vitamin C is also instrumental in the formation of collagen and elastin – the things that help your skin stay radiant and keep a youthful appearance. In other words, the Vitamin C-packed prickly pears (like those found in Pricklee), contain antioxidants that could help maintain healthy skin inside of your body. Win-win!
2. Help with muscle and liver recovery
Antioxidants in prickly pears help with both muscle and liver recovery. Physical exercise leads to an increase of free radicals, causing muscle damage. In clinical studies, polyphenols, flavonoids, and betalains in prickly pear cactus water have shown to decrease muscle damage and prevent oxidative stress. That’s what makes Pricklee a perfect post-workout drink!
When it comes to liver recovery, lab studies have shown that antioxidants contained in cactus water protect liver cells thanks to their scavenging activity against free radicals. Also, having prickly pears before, during, and after alcohol consumption will significantly improve hangover symptoms like nausea and dry mouth and reduce the risk of a nasty hangover caused by toxins. Antioxidant-rich drinks and foods also reduce the production of free radicals after a fatty meal.
3. Act as immune boosters
Finally, cactus water can boost your immune system and help fight oxidation-based diseases. Our immune system is dependent on proper cellular communication to work. Any damage done by free radicals and oxidative stress will affect our body’s natural defense processes and result in an impaired immune response.
For this reason, it’s essential to incorporate natural antioxidants into our diets. Prickly pears happen to contain some of the best antioxidants to support the immune system by preventing damage done to our immune cells by free radicals and supporting the production of key antibodies.
If you haven’t tried cactus water yet, welcome to our Cactus Club! Made from prickly pears, one of the best sources of antioxidants, Pricklee is a natural, non-carbonated antioxidant-packed drink with multiple health benefits and tastes waaaaaay better than coconut water (it also has half the sugar AND calories of coconut water!). Try the best antioxidant drink in town now – it comes in three refreshing flavors – Prickly Pear, Mango Ginger and Strawberry Hibiscus.
Indecisive? Try our Variety Pack!