Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What are Antioxidants?

Eat you fruits and veggies for antioxidants! You have probably heard the buzz about  antioxidants because they fight off those nasty free radicals. Free radical? Antioxidant? What do those words even mean?

Let's start off with the scary part first. A free radical is an atom with one or more unpaired electrons, when they should have 2 as a pair. A free radical is highly reactive because it is unbalanced.  Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation.

We heard where they come from, but why are they so bad? Free radicals damage a cells DNA, which causes the cell to become mutated. This causes the cell to grow and reproduce abnormally. Free radicals also disrupt or degrade proteins and lipids on membranes of cells. These free radicals can set off a chain reaction that can overwhelm the body's natural defense system. Free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can contribute to degenerative diseases  like cancer, arthritis, cataracts, and heart disease.

(Oxidation is a natural process that results in the loss of electrons. An example of oxidation that does not occur in your body is an apple slice turning brown.)

So where do antioxidants come into play? Antioxidants provide the missing electron to complete the pair on a free radical. This increases stability and reduces/eliminates damage. Once antioxidant vitamins are used, they become less reactive free radicals themselves. They must be regenerated in order to keep on functioning.
*** For example, Vitamin C can regenerate Vitamin E.

Antioxidant substances include: Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Carotenoids (B-carotene), Vitamin C, and Glutathione. Flavonoids and polyphenols are also classes of antioxidants. Antioxidants are found in many foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and some meats, poultry, and fish.

So, fight off some free radicals by sending in your antioxidant troops!