How Do Antioxidants Protect The Body Against The Damaging Effects Of Free Radicals
The serious research for the impact of free radicals on the human health is not very old. Some five decades back, the initial research on the free radicals and their effect began at a very academic level. Over the years, the effect of free radicals on ageing, cardiovascular diseases and cancer have now turned into major interest projects for many researchers, universities and global pharmaceutical companies.
The terms “free radicals” and “antioxidants” are now commonly seen in various food products as well as cosmetic products and have also become part of public discourse in casual discussions. High school chemistry defines free radicals as atoms or molecules which have one unpaired electron in their outermost orbital and are highly reactive. In the course of various chemical reactions that continuously go on in our body in the course of metabolic or cellular activities, the free radicals are produced. These free radicals are highly reactive and combine with other atoms or molecules in the surrounding cells and make them unstable. This can lead to a chain reaction which is often the cause of concern. Importantly, the free radicals and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) which is the term for different free radicals are prone to react with the important cellular components (like DNA) of the cell nucleus or cell membranes and can cause irreversible damage to them leading to further complications.
Anti-oxidants are the group of atoms or molecules which can safely mitigate the free radicals or ROS by combining with them and terminating the chain reaction before they harm vital organs of the body. The natural defense system of the body does produce the variety of enzymatic molecules to scavenge the free radicals from the body, but micronutrients like vitamins are also important sources of antioxidants. These micronutrients cannot be manufactured by the body and can be thus taken in diet only. Food rich in Vitamin E and C are known to be excellent providers of anti-oxidants and their abundant availability in different items like certain vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, whole grain, etc. have been established.
One might wonder that the phenomenon of formation of free radicals had been there for ages in the human body so why it has taken the centre stage recently. The answer is simple. Studies have shown that formation of free radicals in the body has increased due to rising pollutants in the air we breathe and toxic elements ingested through the use of pesticides and artificial preservatives in canned food, besides other factors associated with modern lifestyles. The absence of fresh vegetables, fruits and other healthy food items from our dinner plate further deprives the body of the desired quantum of micronutrients required to mitigate the increased menace of free radicals.
Rising incidences of cancers and atherosclerosis in the modern times, especially among the people living in urban centers, has been attributed to the free radicals by many types of research. No wonder, diet supplements of these micronutrients which enhance antioxidants in the body are recommended by physicians.