What are antioxidants?

Most likely you have been hearing the buzzword “antioxidants” all around. Everyone tells us we should get more of them to prevent aging and keep us healthy. But most of us don’t understand how they work exactly and why we really need them. 

Oxygen and free radicals

While oxygen is an essential component for living, it has its dark side as well. Oxygen is very reactive: it can help metabolize proteins, carbs and fats to produce energy, but it also causes oxidation of the molecules in the body.

Oxidation is basically a chemical reaction involving the loss of electrons. It causes molecules to split, which creates molecules that are missing an electron (these are called free radicals). These free radicals can start chain reactions in cells (grabbing electrons from other molecules), causing damage to other molecules and eventually destruction of the cell.

In other words, free radicals “attack” the healthy cells in the body, which enhances the effects of aging and causes serious health problems (poor immune system, heart disease, dementia, and even cancer).

Antioxidants

Our body, however, has means to protect the cells from oxidation and further damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that can deactivate free radicals by stabilizing them before the start attacking cells.

Usually, our bodies get enough of them from food and by producing them using various vitamins and minerals. Normally, there is a balance between antioxidant and pro-oxidants. However, due to certain factors (like exposure to pollution, bad diet, excessive alcohol consumption, radiation, infections, and others) this balance can be shaken.

The good news is - we can get antioxidants from various foods. Moreover, there’s no need to look for exotic foods, there are plenty of antioxidants in foods that we are used to eating. Some, of course, have more than others – more details on that in the following article.