What is an antioxidant, and why should you care? Before we can begin to explain what an anti-oxidant is, a little background is needed on what oxidation is.
Oxidation is a chemical term that means a transfer of energy, in this case electrons. Everything in our world is made of atoms, and a very important part of the atom is the electron. The electron is the part of the atom that does most of the interacting with its neighbors. An atom wants to be stable and balanced. The members of the center of the atom, the nucleus, want to be equal and balanced to the electrons swarming around them. If you transfer electrons to or away from this atom you change the balance and everything tries to reorder itself back to the way it was, even if it means stealing from its neighbors. We call an atom in this state a free radical. Free radicals can cause profound changes within our cells, including damage to our DNA. That damage might reprogram the genetic code and cause a cell to become cancerous.
Free radicals are produced all the time in our bodies. When it is part of the function of the immune system these highly reactive free radicals can destroy bacteria and viruses, this is a good thing. But when free radicals are produced in places that are not equipped to handle them, we may suffer.
An anti-oxidant is a substance that prevents oxidation and the creation of these extra and dangerous free radicals. An important item to note is that too many anti-oxidants will also affect the normal healthy free-radical formation so knowing how much, and what forms, is worth talking to someone about, especially if you plan on high doses. Anti-oxidants come in many shapes and each one has its particular area of greatest influence.
Anti-oxidants occur everywhere in nature, especially in plants. We ingest most of them as fruits and vegetables, especially the brightly colored ones.
Red = berries, wine, tomato and other fruits.
Benefit = blood vessels, heart
Yellow = papaya, turmeric, carrots, pineapple and other fruits
Benefit = reduce allergies and inflammation
Green = tea
Benefit = multi-system anti cancer
In addition to the compounds that color these various plants, many of the vitamins included in other foods provide anti-oxidant properties as well. Some of the best know are ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherols (vitamin E), and β-carotene.
The best way to get these highly beneficial anti-oxidants is to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Try and put at least one in every meal and rotate with as much variety as possible. Not only will you live longer but chances are good that you will feel better and be healthier during that time as well.
-As always, eat for life and be well in happiness.
Dr. Richard Lok