The Battle Between Antioxidants & Free Radicals – Make Sure the Antioxidants WIN!

auntieoxidant

I’ve been doing some research about antioxidants of late. You see it everywhere: in health supplements, in beauty products, in anti-aging products…

Why are antioxidants all the rage? How do they work?

I asked my kids, “What happens when we leave apple slices out on the counter for some time?” They replied, “They go bad.”

Yes, indeed they do. They turn brown, get softer, then turn bad and rotten.

That’s exactly what the oxidizing process does to your body. When our body processes or metabolises oxygen, it creates free radicals. Cells in our body exposed to external factors (like pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke, natural aging, to name a few…) get oxidized. The process of oxidation is sped up by stress, alcohol, sunlight and other external factors too.  It’s a natural and unavoidable process.

Now when cells get oxidized, they become free radicals. If you remember your chemistry, free radicals are atoms or molecules with an unpaired electron. What this means is that free radicals are highly unstable and will go on a rampage to steal another electron from a nearby cell, in order to pair off its unpaired electron. If it steals from a healthy cell, that healthy cell in turn will become another free radical. This process will continue on and hence as time goes on, there will be an avalanche of free radicals in your body. During the process of free radical creation, some cells will be damaged and transform and mutate to become abnormal and diseased cells. As the process continues on, a chain reaction is created very quickly and if not treated, dangerous illnesses will affect the body, such as cancer, diabetes, skin diseases, heart and liver diseases and so on.

“The problem is, free radicals often injure the cell, damaging the DNA, which creates the seed for disease.”
(Source)

Here’s where antioxidants come in. From the name, “antioxidants” mean they “cancel out oxidants” or prevent oxidizing. Antioxidants will stop this “stealing electron” process explained above by providing an electron for the free radical, hence creating a stable atom or molecule. The process stops there because antioxidants are stable whether or not they gain or lose an electron.

“We have clear science about antioxidants, that our bodies need a Natural Antioxidant Defense Network, for lack of a better term,” Blumberg says. “Just like a country needs a military system, the human body needs defense workers at all levels — lieutenants, corporals, generals, staff sergeants – in the form of antioxidants.”
(Source)

So it follows that the more antioxidants you take in, the healthier you become and the less free radicals there will be in your body. The body creates antioxidants on its own too, but sometimes it is just not enough to fight all the free radicals that are generated especially if there is a severe illness.

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain loads of antioxidants essential for our body. Processed foods contain fewer antioxidants than fresh and uncooked foods, because preparation exposes food to oxygen.

richcolorsPicture Source

Some of the antioxidants found in food are:

  • Vitamin A: carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (which gain their color from the compound lycopene), kale, mangoes, oranges, seabuckthorn berries, wolfberries (goji), collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots are particularly rich sources of beta-carotene, the major provitamin A carotenoid.
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits (such as oranges, sweet lime, etc.), green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, black currants, strawberries, blueberries, seabuckthorn, raw cabbage and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin E: wheat germ, seabuckthorn, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, kiwifruit, vegetable oil, and fish-liver oil.
  • Alpha-carotene – carrots, winter squash, tomatoes, green beans, cilantro, Swiss chard
  • Beta-carotene – found in high concentrations in butternut squash, carrots, orange bell peppers, pumpkins, kale, peaches, apricots, mango, turnip greens, broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
  • Lutein – found in high concentration in spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, beet and mustard greens, endive, red pepper and okra
  • Lycopene – found in high concentration in cooked red tomato products like canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice and garden cocktails, guava and watermelons.
  • Zeaxanthin – best sources are kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, Swiss chard, mustard and beet greens, corn, and broccoli
  • Astaxanthin – found naturally in red algae and animals higher in the marine food chain. It is a red pigment familiarly recognized in crustacean shells and salmon flesh/roe.

(Source)

In conclusion, antioxidants aren’t important only for people with illnesses. If you are healthy (or at least if you think you are), antioxidants are necessary to help PREVENT the free radicals chain reaction and thus prevent diseases from forming in the first place.

After all, the old adage of “Prevention is Better Than Cure” can’t be closer to the truth.

Arming ourselves and supplementing our bodies with a diet filled with antioxidants could be the best thing we could do for our health and our future.  Make this your goal this New Year.
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