What Can Antioxidants Do For Me?
My patients and friends often ask me what exactly antioxidants are, so I would like to introduce you to some of the ideas that make me realise why they are so important for our health. Take a look at this:
Part I of IV: Antioxidants – What are they?
Oxidation is a natural process that happens to all cells in nature, including the cells in your body. Antioxidants provide an important defense against the daily assault of free radicals on healthy cells. This Essentials of Health four-part series will review the function, benefits, sources, and safety of dietary antioxidants.
Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons and can be formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction, like dominoes. Their chief danger comes from the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane.
Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs. To prevent free radical damage the body has a defense system of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital tissues and cells are damaged. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principle micronutrient (vitamin/mineral) antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C and selenium.
The body cannot manufacture these micronutrients so they must be supplied in the diet. In addition, there are literally hundreds of plant derived nutrients (phytonutrients) that act as important antioxidants in the diet. It is impossible to avoid damage by free radicals.
Free radicals arise from sources both inside (endogenous) and outside (exogenous) our bodies. Oxidants that develop from processes within our bodies form as a result of normal breathing, metabolism, and inflammation. Exogenous free radicals form from environmental factors such as pollution, sunlight, strenuous exercise, X-rays, smoking and alcohol. Our antioxidant systems are not perfect, so as we age, cell parts damaged by oxidation accumulate.
Source: USANA Health Sciences
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