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Antioxidants Control The Leaves Changing Color In The Fall

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/30/2023

Have you ever wondered why do leaves change color? Let me tell you why so you understand why it’s important to your health. Read on to find out more.

RELATED: Plant Pigments Phytonutrients And Antioxidants

In this article:

  1. Antioxidants Make the Leaves Change Their Color
  2. What Are Antioxidants?
  3. What Are Chlorophyll and Anthocyanin?
  4. Antioxidants Are Dependent on the pH Balance
  5. Carotenoids Change the Leaves’ Color and Provide Health Benefits
  6. Flavonoids Provide Ultraviolet (UV) Filtration to Plants and Can Help the Brain
  7. The “Unknowns” About Antioxidants

Why Do Leaves Change Color | What You Should Know 

Antioxidants Make the Leaves Change Their Color

During the fall season, the leaves of trees and other plants start changing color, and it looks gorgeous and bright when you go outside. What tons of people don't realize is what's happening when the autumn leaves are changing colors. So, I want to do a quick discussion on why leaves change their color and how it relates to antioxidants. 

What Are Antioxidants?

DNA and virus molecules on science background | Antioxidants Control The Leaves Changing Color In The Fall | why do leaves change color | fall leaves

Natural antioxidants are molecules that help get rid of the body's free radicals, which are compounds that can cause damage if the levels become too high. When free radicals are high, it can lead to illnesses, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Free radicals are also waste substances from the cells as your body reacts to the environment and food processes. 

If your body cannot keep up with processing and removing these waste substances effectively, this can lead to oxidative stress which can harm your cells and body. Things that may result in oxidative stress are as follows:

  • Ozone
  • Industrial solvents
  • Exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, including chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Environmental pollution
  • Smoking
  • Consumption of certain foods, especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives
  • Ischemia and reperfusion damage
  • Tissue trauma, due to inflammation and injury
  • Excessive exercise
  • Mitochondrial activity

Your body has natural antioxidant defenses to neutralize free radicals, so it’s important to keep the balance of free radicals in check.

Oxidative Stress Definition: An imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body, leading to tissue and cell damage.

What Are Chlorophyll and Anthocyanin?

Oak tree leaves | Antioxidants Control The Leaves Changing Color In The Fall | why do leaves change color | how do leaves change color

Normally, a leaf is green because of chlorophyll, a green pigment in plants that is part of the photosynthesis process that involves absorbing sunlight and creating energy. So, at the end of summer, we experience a spike of a certain antioxidant called anthocyanins in fall foliage. This compound gives the leaves their red, purple, and even blue colors. It's present in corn, eggplants, oranges, blackberries, cherries, and grapes. The antioxidant is responsible for protecting the leaves or the plant from extreme temperatures. 

Antioxidants Are Dependent on the pH Balance

Antioxidants are very dependent on the plant’s pH. When the pH is 3, which is very acidic, the leaves become redder in color. If it's between 7 and 8, which is more neutral and slightly basic, they turn violet. If it goes up to 11, which is extremely alkaline, they turn blue.

RELATED: Lutein And Your Brain

Carotenoids Change the Leaves’ Color and Provide Health Benefits

Autumn tree leaves red | Antioxidants Control The Leaves Changing Color In The Fall | why do leaves change color | autumn leaves

There is an antioxidant called carotenoids, which provide the leaves yellow, red, and orange fall colors, but there are over 11,000 different carotenoids. One great carotenoid is lutein, which is good for the macula of the eye. There is also xanthine, which is good for the brain and memory. As the temperature gets colder, you get a spike in tannins, which give the brown colors in leaves.

Because carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds, the body can absorb them best with fat. You can increase the nutrient strength of carotenoids when you chop or cook foods high in them. Your body can even convert some types of carotenoids into Vitamin A, which supports the immune system and bone health, protects your eyes from age-related decline, promotes healthy reproduction and growth, and may lower your risk of certain types of cancer.

One great way to increase carotenoids in your body is to get it from eating fruits and vegetables. Because they are fat-soluble, you can simply add more fat to your meal. The following are some of the ideas you can try for your diet:

  • Bake sweet potatoes and place pepper, salt, and butter on top.
  • Try salmon instead of red meat once or twice per week.
  • Dip sliced carrots into hummus for snacks.
  • Blend a smoothie using avocado, kale, and blueberries.
  • Saute kale or spinach in olive oil and eat it with nuts.
  • Make a salad with sliced tomatoes and carrots, top with a little vinegar and olive oil.

Flavonoids Provide Ultraviolet (UV) Filtration to Plants and Can Help the Brain

There are also flavonoids, which provide yellow, yellow-red, blue, and magenta autumn colors to the autumn foliage. There are also antioxidants that give the plants their UV filtration. You can get flavonoids in parsley, onions, and blueberries. 

Flavonoids primarily help reduce cell damage by free radicals. They also have mood- and memory-enhancing, antimicrobial, and antihistamine properties. Scientists found that they can significantly help improve the brain's health as they can protect and reverse cognitive declines from aging.

The “Unknowns” About Antioxidants

Antioxidant rich food | Antioxidants Control The Leaves Changing Color In The Fall | why do leaves change color | Flavonoid

There are many different unknowns about antioxidants. Do antioxidants have a direct effect on your body? Or do they have an indirect effect? What we do know is they have a great impact on the body since they are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. Antioxidants may also increase uric acid in the body. Uric acid is one of the most powerful antioxidants the plants make, so whether that's true or not, we don't know.     

What we do know is when we consume foods high in antioxidants, our health improves. Just make sure you get antioxidants from food though, not from pills. People can make antioxidants in a lab, and it's a genetically modified product. You want to avoid those, so get your antioxidants from your vegetables.   

Now you know the answer to the question “why do leaves change color?”, so there are more reasons for you to value the importance of boosting antioxidants in your body. It may be unclear if antioxidants have a direct or indirect effect on your health, but it’s clear they are beneficial for your body. So, start adding antioxidant-rich foods to your diet now and experience great health benefits!

Are you eating lots of vegetables? What health improvements did you experience? We want to know in the comments section below!

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

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