The definition of antioxidants is simple; a compound that has the ability to prevent the damage caused by oxidation. That gives us a little information, but not quite enough. Let’s dig a little deeper while keeping things fairly simple, shall we?
Molecules are the smallest physical unit of an element or compound. They consist of one or more of the same atoms in an element (hydrogen gas, H2) and two or more different atoms in a compound (H2O). Our bodies are continually breaking down molecules and rearranging them to build different types our bodies need.
Metabolism is the process by which our bodies break down and build up molecules. During this process, atoms loose or gain electrons. The loss of electrons is referred to as oxidation because it is usually fueled by oxygen.
Stable atoms have an even number of electrons in pairs at successive distances from the nucleus. Oxidation results in an odd number of electrons in its outermost shell. In most cases unpaired electrons will team up other unpaired electrons, resulting in a new stabilized atom. However, sometimes they don’t find their mate and remain unpaired. These atoms are now highly unstable and are called free radicals.
Some free radicals are a necessary part of our bodily functions; others can damage our cells and cause major problems. Free radicals are jerks and will try to steal an electron from stable atoms in an attempt to stabilize itself. This can set off a chain reaction and cause damage to our cell proteins and even DNA, and are also associated with many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Alright, this is where antioxidants come in. Certain antioxidant vitamins (E, C & A) will donate their electrons to free radicals to stabilize them and reduce damage caused by oxidation. The minerals selenium, copper, iron, zinc, and manganese contribute to complex enzyme systems that help to convert free radicals to less damaging substances that are then excreted by our bodies. You can’t deny the importance of vitamins and minerals in our diet!
I bet you can’t guess which foods are good sources of antioxidants? That’s right…healthy foods! Not fried crap that likely destroys any vitamins and minerals during the cooking process. Onions, garlic, berries, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, sea food, tea, wine, and vegetable oils are all full of antioxidants. Eat/drink ‘em up (take it easy on the wine though)!!
Unfortunately there are external factors that cause free radical formation within the body. These factors include pollution, overexposure to the sun, toxic substances, tobacco smoke, radiation exposure, and asbestos. Although some of these factors are hard to control, smoking, tanning, and your exposure to toxic substances are ones you can. Give up the cancer sticks, put some sunscreen on, and clean your house using natural products such as vinegar and water or steam cleaning.
Thanks a million for reading my post!