Antioxidants are everywhere. Energy drinks, skin treatments, vitamin supplements, and cold remedies, and all extol the virtues of their special combination of health giving ingredients.
To better understand antioxidants we have to start with oxidation, the chemical process of one substance “stealing” an electron from another and changing, or destroying it.
You don’t have to understand the chemistry to get the picture. Graphic examples are all around us. When iron is oxidized, it becomes rust. The same process is seen when a slice of potato or avocado is left in the open air. Oxidation changes the intrinsic nature of the substance.
To prevent this, we can protect those potato slices from oxidation by submerging them in water, or we can protect the sliced avocado by squeezing the juice of a lemon on it. The lemon juice contains vitamin C, a potent antioxidant.
These everyday examples of oxidation are carried out by electron-stealing “free radicals” which attack previously stable molecules. Antioxidants are the antidote. They are self-sacrificing substances that donate an electron and neutralize the free radicals.
All this is really important because critical biological substances, including DNA, can be victims of free radical damage, thus causing premature aging of cells, disease and death.
Serious stuff indeed.
Among the antioxidants that our bodies utilize to protect us are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, glutathione, selenium, lutein and various polyphenols. These are very necessary ingredients that ward off a multitude of diseases.
Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables. And in their natural state, they help prevent the conversion of cholesterol into artery-blocking plaques, they protect genes from oxidation, and help keep us healthy and young. Antioxidants are definitely a good thing.
So it would seem to make sense that adding supplemental antioxidants would be a smart strategy. At least, that is what ads on television, newspapers…