The terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” get tossed around a lot, but many people do not really understand what they are and what they do. We know that for the most part, free radicals are bad and antioxidants are good, but what are their actual roles?
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are atoms that have either too many electrons or not enough electrons. Being unstable, they try to obtain electrons from other atoms, or get rid of extra electrons, causing damage to cells, proteins and DNA. Free radicals form inside our bodies as a result of normal physiological processes such as respiration, metabolism, inflammation and exercise. There are also external causes of free radicals, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, as well as pollution, sunshine and x-rays.
We all generate millions of free radicals every minute, and some free radicals are necessary to allow your body to neutralize bacteria and viruses. However, when your body is bombarded by external influences like those mentioned above, it can create even more free radicals, which can lead to health problems. This is where antioxidants come into play. By ensuring an adequate intake of antioxidants through diet and supplementation, we can combat the oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
As your body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. This can result in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and other dementias, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, cancer, cataracts and age-related vision decline, and age-related changes in appearance, such as wrinkles and sagging skin.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants can help prevent the harmful effects of free radicals by donating an electron to the free radical cell, thereby reducing its negative reactivity. Antioxidants can donate an electron without becoming reactive free radicals themselves. No single antioxidant can combat the effects of every free radical. And just as free radicals have different effects on different areas of the body, every antioxidant behaves differently due to its chemical properties.
Antioxidants counteract the damaging effects of oxidation, a physiological process in our bodies. Oxidation creates oxidative stress, which occurs when harmful free radicals wear down our body’s defenses, potentially leading to the development of chronic diseases.
The following are well known antioxidants. Taking them individually can be beneficial but a formula that combines many types of antioxidants can provide broad-spectrum protection.
• Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and is water soluble. It attacks free radicals inside the cells and works together with vitamin E to eradicate free radicals in the body. Vitamin C is important for healthy skin, bone and connective tissue. It helps absorb iron and aids the healing process.
• Beta carotene is the most widely studied carotenoid. It excels at attacking free radicals that occur in low oxygen concentrations.
• Selenium is a trace element that creates an active site for some antioxidant enzymes, including glutathione peroxidase, which is one of the most important in the body.
Good dietary sources of antioxidants include:
• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grain cereals
An adequate diet combined with supplementation will ensure sufficient antioxidant intake to win the battle against oxidative stress.
Photo from here, with thanks.