We hear about them all the time. These supposedly magical properties have a wide range of benefits, they say. Antioxidants are the key to anti-aging and the most powerful substance for reducing risk of cancer, plus other illnesses and conditions. There is no shortage of steam behind these molecular constructs, but understanding their true nature is a little tricky. What do antioxidants do? Why are they so important? Is the buzz legitimate, or over the top? And what are the best ways to ensure you’re getting them into the mix? We’re going to dive deep on these powerful natural chemicals and give you all the info you need to know.
As the name suggests, an antioxidant is a molecule that prevents and inhibits oxidation of other molecules within the body. What is oxidation? Well, we’re going to dig into some high school chemistry concepts here, but we will try to keep it as simple as possible. In short, oxidation refers to the process that occurs when oxygen is metabolized in the human body. This creates clusters of atoms that we call “free radicals” and they are problematic over the long haul. They take away electrons from other molecules and cause cellular damage. We refer to this process as oxidative stress, and it is believed to contribute to a number of negative health outcomes. In particular, excessive oxidative stress can increase risk of cancer.
What Do Antioxidants Do?
So, how do antioxidants play a role in deterring this phenomenon? By nature, these properties counteract the damaging effects of oxidation and free radicals. Broadly answering the question, what do antioxidants do, is challenging because there are so many different forms. Some of them we commonly know by other nutrient names. These include vitamins A, C and E, as well as minerals like zinc, copper and selenium. Antioxidants also come in the form of phytochemicals from plants and zoochemcials via animal foods. You can get antioxidants through supplements, although there is some debate about whether this an effective method to absorb and utilize them. Dietary means appear to be the best bet.
Free radicals contribute to a number of long-term health issues. Beyond the increase in cancer risk that comes along with cell DNA damage, there are a number of other negative outcomes. These can include deterioration of vision and eyesight, increased risk for heart disease, cognitive breakdown, and joint inflammation. Moreover, free radicals and oxidative stress can accelerate the aging process leading to many issues with associate with it. These come in the form of physical signs, like wrinkles and sagging skin, as well as low energy, decreasing memory function and more.
Where to Get Antioxidants
If you know where to look, antioxidants aren’t too hard to find. They are prominently available in dark berries like cranberries and blueberries. They are also abundantly present in grapes, and you can get a healthy fix from a glass of red wine. That makes this alcoholic beverage a popular option in the evening. Other robust sources of antioxidants include green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, citrus fruits, teas, and seafood.
What do antioxidants do? An awful lot, so make so you’re infusing them into your diet frequently!