If you have ever read any article related to health and fitness, you would have inevitably come across the term “antioxidants”. Foods that are rich in antioxidants claim to have a variety of benefits ranging from preventing cancer to keeping you looking young. So you may be wondering what exactly are antioxidants, how do they work and why are they so important to your health. In this article, we will try to provide you with answers to all these questions. Let us start by explaining what are antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body and help eliminate or neutralize the free radicals. This leads to the next question.
What are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are molecules that contain unpaired electrons. Electrons usually come in pairs within the molecules and unpaired electrons have a tendency to find other molecules to borrow electrons from. However, this leads to damage of the other molecules with which the free radicals interact.
Free radicals are highly unstable molecules. They are produced as by-products of chemical reactions within the body. They may also be produced when the body is exposed to toxins. Every time our body digests food, every time we are exposed to pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation or sunlight and even when we exercise, our body produces free radicals. Free radicals attack the normal cells in our body trying to find an electron for the unpaired electron within the free radical. This process damages the cell. This also leads to a domino effect, where the damaged cell causes further damage to the other cells. This is the reason why it is important to find a way to neutralize the free radicals.
Since free radicals occur naturally within our body, our body also has a way to deal with them. But the problem occurs when the amount of free radicals is much greater than what the body can handle. The damage caused by free radicals is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the cause of many diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s. The free radicals can damage the walls of the cells and allow substances that should not enter the cells to enter the cells. It can also cause cell death and damage to DNA leading to cancer.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Antioxidants are a class of molecules that come in many different shapes and sizes and therefore have different ways of functioning. However, the common factor is that they fight the oxidative stress caused by free radicals. While some antioxidants contribute the extra electron to the free radicals, thus making them stable and thereby stopping them from causing any harm, others work by completely degrading the free radicals.
Antioxidants have a detoxifying effect on the body. They help remove the harmful free radicals and stop the damage they cause. There are different ways in which our body acquire antioxidants. While some antioxidants are produced naturally within the body, we get some others via the food we consume.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Antioxidants have a wide range of benefits mainly because the free radicals wreak havoc on every aspect of our body. As mentioned before, there are many different types of antioxidants. Each type benefits a different part of the body.
- Our skin is constantly exposed to the harmful UV rays from the sun and this can lead to oxidative damage on the skin. This is the cause of premature aging, sunburn and even some forms of skin cancer. Antioxidants such as astaxanthin, Coenzym Q10, beta-carotene, and vitamin E can help prevent these by fighting the oxidative damages.
- When free radicals attack the cells in the body, they compromise our immune system. This is one of the main causes of cancer. The antioxidant astaxanthin can help improve the immunity system and so can many other antioxidants.
- Certain antioxidants, especially the ones in Vitamin C can help prevent many heart diseases.
- Antioxidants play a key role in repairing neurons in our body and preventing brain damage. They can significantly improve our cognitive abilities. Carotenoids can improve the overall cognitive health and Vitamin E can help in dealing with depression. Antioxidants also play a key role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Antioxidants are also important in maintaining good vision and preventing cataracts. Vitamins C and E are especially effective in this aspect.
- Antioxidants can also improve the health of your hair and help in preventing hair loss.
The list of benefits of antioxidants in never-ending. It is important to understand that these are perhaps the most crucial and the most beneficial ingredients in our diet.
Apart from the antioxidants that are produced in your body, the other major source of antioxidants is the food we consume. It is vital to consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables daily to get the recommended dose of antioxidants. Berries and colorful fruits are also very rich in antioxidants. You can also find antioxidants in green tea, nuts and certain spices such as cinnamon.
Jessica is the founder of CareHappiness.com She and her editors work to inspire, educate and empower readers with all the latest updates and authentic health information.