The Lowdown On Antioxidants
As you might guess from the name, antioxidants are substances like vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals that prevent the oxidation of other chemicals in the body. Oxidation can produce unstable substances called free radicals which can damage the body’s cells. It’s something like the process that makes a piece of fruit rot, or metal go rusty, but it happens inside the body rather than externally.
Free radicals can lead to premature aging, are thought to cause some cancers, and can also be a significant contributory factor to coronary heart disease. Free radicals are also partially responsible for chronic diseases and infections. Oxidation happens as a natural bodily process, but when that process is accelerated, problems can arise, and that’s where antioxidants come in.
Vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants, as is the element selenium. Brightly coloued fruits and vegetables containing plant polyphenols are also high in antioxidants. Basically, if your diet is varied, and contains plenty of different fruits and vegetables, you are probably getting all the antioxidants your body needs.
Antioxidants are present in every single body cell, and their main objective is to neutralise the harmful molecules resulting from oxidation which also happen to be present in the body’s cells. Normally, these molecules contain single electrons rather than pairs, and that is why they are so unstable. Cigarette smoke, ultra violet light and air pollution are all contributory factors in the production of harmful free radicals. Inflammation and infection in various areas of the body also have a major role in the formation of free radicals.
Antioxidants work in two different ways. They can provide the extra electron to stabilise the molecule, or they can break down the molecule and render it harmless. As they perform these vital tasks, the antioxidants remain stable, so there will be no unpredictable reactions to worry about.
Different antioxidants function in various ways, which is why you should obtain a wide variety from the diet. The body produces its own antioxidants, but this production deteriorates from the age of around 30, which is why you need to obtain antioxidants from the diet. Selenium can halt the progression of disease in HIV positive patients, while the polyphenols in blueberries are effective in preventing the recurrence of some cancers.
Antioxidants are much more effective when they are obtained from the foods you eat rather than from supplements. Selenium is available in nuts and broccoli, and a daily serving of five different fruits and vegetables should provide all the antioxidants your body needs.
Consider antioxidants as nature’s own bodyguards, and make certain that your diet contains a variety of differently coloured fruits and vegetables, plus nuts and oils to give your body the tools it needs to counteract the effects of aging and disease.
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