The term ‘antioxidants’ springs up in every health-related discussion today. You may often wonder what they are and what makes them such a vital topic of discussion. If yes, you’ve landed yourself at just the right place.
Antioxidants are natural substances that prevent the cells of your body from damage by free radicals (oxidants). Free radicals are harmful chemicals that can affect the proteins and lipids in the body and the DNA of the healthy cells, rendering them useless. Oxidants occur naturally in your body, and they’re involved in various bodily functions, but if they aren’t controlled, they can lead to serious diseases like cancer.
Antioxidants are produced naturally in the body. You can also obtain them from numerous natural food sources. If your diet doesn’t fulfill your body’s antioxidant needs, you can even opt for supplements. In short, you’ve got to ensure that your body doesn’t fall short of these very important substances.
We can’t stress enough how important these natural substances are. We’ve listed down some of the most prominent reasons why we say antioxidants are essential to your health. Let’s get to the point right away!
Antioxidants aren’t any single chemical substance but a group of chemicals that have antioxidant or oxidant-fighting properties. Different antioxidants interact in different ways and help your body work efficiently through their fight against free radicals. The body produces its own antioxidants naturally, but there’s always a need for external antioxidants to ensure that the healthy cells are protected from getting damaged irreversibly.
Some of the most powerful antioxidants that your body obtains through diet include Vitamin A, C, E, lycopene, beta carotene, manganese, selenium, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Other substances with excellent antioxidant properties include catechins, flavones, flavonoids, phytoestrogens, and polyphenols, which are present in plant-based foods.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
What antioxidants do is what makes them so important. The primary role of antioxidants is to protect the healthy cells of your body from oxidative damage. The oxidative stress to the body cells does extensive damage and can lead to serious conditions like cancer. You can’t keep oxidants from getting into the body since they’re present in the environment. From emissions from cars to cigarette smoke, everything contains overwhelmingly high quantities of oxidants that you breathe in every second of the day. What you need to know is that oxidants in a specified quantity aren’t even harmful. As mentioned earlier, they’re actually a part of some vital body functions. They become harmful for the body when they exceed a certain limit, and that’s when antioxidants come into play.
Antioxidants will prevent the oxidants from attacking the DNA of your body’s healthy cells and serve as the body’s natural defense mechanism against these harmful chemicals.
How Do Antioxidants Work?
Now that you know what antioxidants are, where your body gets them from, and what they do, we can now move onto the nifty technical details of how they work. It’ll help you understand the importance of antioxidants better.
Let’s start by looking at free radicals a bit in detail. These molecules contain unpaired electrons. Electrons are usually found in pairs, which is what provides stability to a molecule. However, the presence of an unpaired electron makes free radicals unstable and highly reactive. It’s because of this that they are eager to attack cells and achieve chemical stability.
As we mentioned earlier, free radicals are naturally produced by the body and are also present in the environment. What makes these free radicals all more dangerous is the domino effect, where they scavenge electrons from other molecules and make more free radicals. It’s more like an ongoing chain reaction, which, if not stopped, can wreak havoc in your body.
Now, what antioxidants do is they neutralize these highly reactive free radicals by completing their valency. They do so by providing the free radicals the extra electron that they lack and eventually renders them harmless for the body. It’s only wise to say that antioxidants stop the chain reaction and put the domino effect to rest.
There has been extensive research on the connection between antioxidants and the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. According to a recent study, the addition of an antioxidant blueberry gel, rich in polyphenols to the diet of patients suffering from oral cancer prevented by a relapse of cancer.
Another research that backs up the importance of antioxidants demonstrated that the progression of HIV disease was delayed in patients whose diet contained increased quantities of the antioxidant selenium.
Is There A Thing Like Too Many Antioxidants?
Considering how important antioxidants are for the body, one may assume – the more, the better. However, that isn’t true. Too much of anything can be harmful to the body, even if it’s antioxidants that we’re talking about. Excessive antioxidants can be toxic. Like we have repeatedly mentioned earlier, your body needs oxidants in certain quantities for some vital body functions like oxidation of glucose to form energy. Too many antioxidants would mean that even the essential oxidants will be neutralized, which isn’t something you would want to take your body towards.
Therefore, take a diet rich in antioxidants, but if you’re planning to opt for extra supplementation, make sure you consult with a doctor first.
Antioxidants form an essential part of the body’s natural defense system. Without antioxidants, the healthy cells of your body are constantly at the risk of oxidative stress. Once oxidants damage a cell, the damage is irreparable. The cell is rendered useless for the body. In worst cases, the oxidants may alter a cell and result in the development of deadly diseases like cancer. The right amounts of antioxidants in the body ensure a balance between oxidants and antioxidants since both of these substances are required by your body. Now, do you understand why antioxidants are often part of literally every health-related discussion?