What are Anti-oxidants?

July 6th, 2010
What are Anti-oxidants?

I was talking with friends this Fourth of July weekend as we were roasting in the sun, and the topic came up about what really are, anti-oxidants. I told them about free radicals, oxidation and so on, but I thought about this article that explained it really well and maybe a lot of other people wonder the same thing. So here are the cliff notes from Mens Health: 5 Myths about Anti-Oxidants.

The Basics: Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules in the body that can cause DNA mutation. Even though free radicals have been linked to serious conditions like heart disease, Parkinson’s, and cancer, they aren’t necessarily villains–they’re by-products of a basic metabolic process called oxidation. “They’re absolutely essential to life,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the antioxidants lab at Tufts University. “For example, immune cells will shoot free radicals onto invading bacteria in order to kill them. They’re an important part of the body’s defenses.”

Too many free radicals, on the other hand, are harmful. Pollutants, cigarette smoke, and sun overexposure can generate so many free radicals that your normal antioxidant defenses become overwhelmed, leaving you vulnerable to cell damage and disease. Some researchers also link free-radical oxidation with aging.

That’s where antioxidants come in. “We need to make sure we have adequate antioxidant defenses to combat all the excess free radicals,” says Blumberg.

Do this: Assuming you’ve curbed bad habits such as smoking and excessive tanning, turn to your diet. If you eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, your diet is naturally rich in thousands of antioxidants. Studies suggest eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day to reap the most health benefits.

How Antioxidants Work
Normal cellular processes—as well as stressors like cigarette smoke, alcohol and sunburn—trigger your body to produce excessive amounts of cell-damaging molecules called free radicals. Here’s how antioxidants can come to the defense.

1. When a molecule loses an electron, it becomes a reactive free radical with an extra, unpaired electron.

2. The free radical tries to steal an electron from a nearby molecule to regain balance.

3. This can create another free radical, causing a chain reaction that can damage cell components, including DNA. This can lead to possible health problems ranging from a weakened immune system to cancer.

4. An antioxidant molecule can neutralize a free radical by giving up one of its own electrons. Unlike a free radical, it’s able to maintain stability by redistributing its electrons.

Foods that Contain Antioxidants:
-All fruits and vegetables (the wider variety the better)
-beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
-grass-fed meats, poultry, dairy products (because the animals that eat the plant products are richer in antioxidants)
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