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Why Antioxidants Work

  • Published: 2009-02-12 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-14) : Author: Blake Hagen
  • Synopsis: We can fight free radicals by doing something as simple as eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Quote: "If you've ever been to a health store, I am sure you have seen the aisles and aisles of products that claim to solve every problem the human body can encounter."

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The other day I was reading the local newspaper and found an interesting article about a new beverage that is supposedly packed with antioxidants.

This specific beverage tested in the top 25% in the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbency capacity) rating system, which measures the antioxidant capacity of foods. This got me thinking...what is all the hype about antioxidants and do we really even need them? What can antioxidants do for us

In the natural processes of the body, free radicals are produced. A free radical is a molecule or atom that has at least one unpaired electron in its outer shell. Atoms don't like this and want to be stable with all of their electrons paired. When they lack an electron, atoms behave differently than they otherwise would. Oxygen, for example, often loses an electron in the normal processes of metabolism. When this happens, the oxygen free radical goes around the body searching for an electron it can "steal" from another atom. When this "donor" loses an electron, it now becomes unstable and searches for an electron that it can steal. As you can see, this process goes on and on until the body finds a way to stop it. Imagine what would happen if the stolen electrons came from vital proteins, vitamins, or even DNA. This could cause these substances to not function properly and could cause cell damage, cell death, could lead to cardiovascular disease, and/or even lead to some types of cancer.

Free radicals also come from more sources than just our own bodies. They come from the sun's ultraviolet light, car exhaust and other air pollution, burned foods (especially charred meat from an open flame), and especially cigarette smoke. It is no wonder that smokers have higher rates of cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems than non-smokers. This is also the reason why second-hand smoke can be so dangerous. Free radicals can enter the body and make a mess of unsuspecting body chemicals and processes.

We can fight free radicals by doing something as simple as eating enough fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of phytochemicals, or plant chemicals, that can protect against diseases and promote good health. Some of these phytochemicals are known as antioxidants because they fight against free radicals (oxidants). Antioxidants do this by donating an electron to the free radical so that it can become stable again. The antioxidants don't mind losing their electron either -it is as if they are built to donate to and neutralize the free radicals.

Research is still being done, but as of now, we know that antioxidants are an important component of fruits and vegetables. We also know they can neutralize the effects of free radicals on the body and therefore, help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Check out the website from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for more information on fruits and vegetables and how to get enough of them every day.

If you've ever been to a health store, I am sure you have seen the aisles and aisles of products that claim to solve every problem the human body can encounter. The same is true for antioxidant products. Hundreds of products "full of antioxidants" line the shelves, but how many of these products give our bodies the same benefits as pure fruits and vegetables? Many of these products, like the beverage I read about in the newspaper, may or may not provide the health benefits on their own. Researchers are not yet sure if it is just the antioxidants by themselves that give all the health benefits or if it is an interaction with other substances in fruits and vegetables that provides the benefits. Because research on phytochemicals and fruits and vegetables is still on-going, we are encouraged to eat fruits and vegetables in their original form.

Want to get some antioxidants

Carrots, spinach, broccoli and sweet potatoes are examples of foods with Carotene.

For some Vitamin C, eat some tomatoes, strawberries, apples (with skin) and citrus fruits.

For Vitamin E, eat those leafy green vegetables.

With increased fruit and vegetable consumption, your body will be able to offset free radicals and better prevent many chronic diseases. While it won't provide you with complete immunity from all chronic disease, research has shown that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day will provide needed protection through antioxidants and other phytochemicals.

Reference: Blake Hagen The Fight for Fitness


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