I am frequently bringing up nutrition in my conversations as of late, and I continue to be surprised at how much we, as a society, don’t know. We know the words, but we don’t always know the meanings…..myself included.
My latest topic of choice has been Antioxidants, and after asking around for the last week or two, I have come to the following conclusion: We know we need them, but we don’t know why. So….here is Antioxidant 101.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. The body produces antioxidants naturally, but the problem comes when there are more free radicals in the body than it can naturally handle. Types of antioxidants are: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Carotenoids such as Beta-Carotene, Lycopene, and Leutin.
Ok, what are free radicals?
A free radical is an atom with an odd number of electrons. An atom needs an even number of electrons to be stable, so this electron imbalance creates an unstable atom. The unstable atom wants balance, so it scavenges through the body eventually taking an electron from wherever it can find one. This electron robbery* causes a new, previously stable atom to become imbalanced and unstable ultimately creating a new free radical. Now, this new free radical has to find an electron from yet another unassuming atom, which is the beginning of a destructive chain reaction damaging hundreds of atoms and cells in the process. Yikes.
*Note to self… this process of removing electrons from an atom is called “oxidation”. Some examples of oxidation are the browning of an apple or the rusting of iron.
So, basically, an excess of free radicals in the body causes a browning effect, similar to that of an apple, not only on the outside of the body, but on the inside as well. Ick. When there is an excessive amount of this oxidation happening in the body, it is called “oxidative stress”.
Ok, so aside from the obvious, why is this bad?
When oxidation occurs and a healthy cell has been damaged, the DNA in the cell may have been damaged as well. When a cell then reproduces with damaged DNA, it is reproducing with a mutation and has therefore recreated itself with abnormalities. This potentially opens up a vulnerability to disease and other aging related issues. Oxidative stress has been linked to a number of medical issues including Alzehimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease.
Where do free radicals come from?
Some free radicals are natural and actually created in our own bodies. They are a byproduct of chemical reactions, and the body experiences millions, probably trillions, of chemical reactions every day. Our bodies were designed with the means to be able to handle a normal, natural load of free radicals, but the problem occurs when we introduce unnatural free radicals into our systems. Unnatural free radicals come from pollution, cigarette smoke, alcohol, UV rays, chemicals from foods and drugs, and other environmental toxins.
How do antioxidants help?
Antioxidants neutralize the effects of free radicals by donating their electrons. Antioxidants can remain stable with an odd number of electrons, so they aren’t in danger of becoming free radicals themselves.
Where do we get antioxidants?
Food! Its easy. Healthy, wholesome foods. In my opinion it is best to get your nutrition through whole foods rather than popping a pill or taking a powder, but do what you can.
Here are some suggestions:
– Bell peppers (green, yellow, red bell peppers)
– Berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackberries)
– Spinach, Kale
– Broccoli, cauliflower
Hopefully you found this info to be helpful, and maybe it even peaked your interest a bit on the subject. If you want to explore some more, check out some of my resources…
Dr Andrew Weil
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
Antioxidants Detectives… A great example of the chain reaction
Health Check Systems…A great refresher on the science of the cell…
Tags: antioxidants, balance, food, free radicals, health, healthy, mindfulness, nutrition, self care, wellness