What is an Antioxidant? A lot of people hear the term “antioxidant”, and they suddenly remember either high school biology or high school chemistry.
A lot of people know that it’s good for you and your body, but not everyone knows what it really is. What is an antioxidant and why do you need it?
The Free Radicals
In your body roams a lot of free radicals, which are commonly the byproducts of natural cellular activities. These free radicals are molecules in the body that need one electron for them to become truly stable.
In effect, when they roam around the body, they usually take an electron from any molecule that is already stable, and in effect, produce another free radical (since the molecule they “stole” it from currently lacks an electron).
This process is called “oxidation”. Oxidation is potentially harmful to the body because the process of “stealing” electrons from each other damages molecules in cells, therefore damaging the cells themselves.
Free radicals are not really that dangerous. Some free radicals are needed for bodily functions and to fight certain diseases.
In fact, when the immune system detects foreign invaders, it sends disease-fighting cells, which excrete free radicals in the hope of destroying the invaders.
However, as we age, or get exposed to pollution such as cigarette smoke, smog, or even excessive amounts of sunlight, the number of free radicals in our body increases greatly to amounts that the body cannot handle.
These free radicals can take electrons from vital molecules, such as proteins and lipids, destroying them in the process. Damages to these vital molecules can make cells vulnerable to cancer-causing chemicals, known as carcinogens.
What is an Antioxidant?
This is where antioxidants come in. Antioxidants work by controlling the number of free radicals in the body, helping the body retain the natural balance of free radicals in the body.
Certain antioxidants work with other chemicals to transform free radicals into harmless molecules. Dietary antioxidants complement the action of the body’s enzymes in fighting off free radicals.
In fact, some studies show that diets rich in antioxidants play their part in reducing the occurrence of heart diseases and cancers.
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What Can Antioxidants Do?
One common cause of cancer is the corruption of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the basic blueprint of cells and life.
Free radicals can cause damage to DNA molecules by “stealing” electrons from them. Antioxidants prevent this by stopping free radicals from destroying DNA molecules.
Heart disease can also be caused by free radicals. Free radicals tend to oxidize LDL (low-density lipoprotein) molecules, the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
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Studies have shown that oxidized versions of LDL lead to the hardening of the arteries, a cause of heart diseases. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C prevent the oxidation of LDL molecules, thereby reducing the risk of heart problems.
When the body is doing a strenuous activity, the body increases its intake of oxygen. The increased intake of oxygen will also increase the occurrence of oxygen-free radicals in the body, which can cause harmful effects to the body’s molecules.
The presence of antioxidants in the body will help fight these oxygen-free radicals.
These are only some of the reasons why antioxidants are helpful to your body and lifestyle. The magic of these barely visible molecules is important for the maintenance of our health.
We hope that this article can answer your questions about what is an antioxidant. Antioxidants need to be known to everyone