We often hear about antioxidants being good for us, but what exactly are they, why do we need them and where do we get them?
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are protective molecules that neutralize free radicals and protect the body from damage. They help defend the body by feeding electrons to the free radicals, which neutralize them. Antioxidants are found in a variety of foods, especially fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. The body also creates its own antioxidant enzymes.
Free radicals are the bad guys that antioxidants go after. They are unstable molecules with an unpaired electron in their molecular structure. Electrons are most stable in pairs, so a free radical tries to stabilize itself by attaching to cell membranes in the body to “steal” their molecules of electrons. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction.
Free radicals are caused by essential metabolic processes, such as breathing, eating and walking. Sometimes the cells of the body’s immune system purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. They are also formed in ever-increasing numbers outside the body by factors such as pollution, radiation, pesticides and sun exposure.
Antioxidants keep the body from rusting from the inside out. In their effort to become stable, free radicals interact with other molecules within cells. This can cause oxidative damage to proteins, membranes, and genes. In effect, your body is “rusting” as it goes through its lifetime, with the free radicals running amok through your system, searching for a mate. The more your body contains, the more damage is likely to be done.
Where can we get antioxidants?
Doctors recommend that we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which are natural sources of antioxidants. The antioxidant benefits of tea catechins and resveratrol in red wine are highly touted. However, when you examine the actual studies on antioxidants, you realize you need to consume huge amounts to realize real, noticeable benefits. For example, to get enough resveratrol from red wine to keep us youthful, we would have to drink 400 bottles of wine daily! This, of course, is impossible, so to get enough antioxidants to really benefit us, concentration is essential.