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Antioxidants How They Work

The cells of the body need oxygen to survive and function properly. But oxygen can also be responsible for damage to these bodily cells. This takes place through the process of oxidation. When oxidation occurs, free radicals are formed. These free radicals are actually organic molecules that can cause tissue damage, disease and ageing.

They are unstable molecules which try to pair with other molecules. Free radicals can have a damaging effect on the cells of the body. Continuous damage by free radicals may contribute to cancer. Antioxidants are molecules which help in protecting the body from the adverse effects of the free radicals. They work by reversing the damage that results from oxidation. They also help in bodily repair to some extent. Antioxidants are extremely important for the health and longevity of the body. They are contained in nutrients such as minerals, vitamins and certain enzymes. Since these substances are so important to our health, it is important to learn more about antioxidants and how they work.

The best way to explain the working of antioxidants is through the example of an apple. Once you cut an apple and allow it to remain like that for some time, you will see that the exposed part of the apple turns brown. This is due to the process of oxidation. But if you rub lemon juice over the exposed part of an apple and then expose it to the air, the area will stay white. This can be attributed to the antioxidant properties of lemon juice. The cells in the body are protected in the same way by antioxidants derived from food. The primary task of antioxidants is to stop the oxidation process by neutralizing the free radicals. However when free radicals are neutralized, the antioxidants are also subjected to oxidation. This is why we need to continuously supply our bodies with antioxidants. In order to understand the importance of antioxidants how they work, we first need to know how free radicals function. Free radicals are extremely unstable and hence tend to either absorb new electrons or release electrons from the bodily cells. Whenever there is release or absorption of an electron, a new free radical is created. Therefore a chain reaction is triggered off and if this continues for a long period of time, the cells will start to decay.

Types of Antioxidants

There are different types of antioxidants. Vitamins, minerals and certain enzymes all help to supply antioxidants to the body. Vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene are some powerful antioxidants that help to stabilize the free radicals. Antioxidant enzymes work in a different manner. They slow down the rate at which free radicals are formed. They can also stop the process of oxidation completely once the existing free radicals are stabilized. However, only certain types of free radicals are affected by each antioxidant.  Antioxidants have many benefits and can be obtained from various food sources. Once can effectively maintain overall health by consuming adequate amounts of antioxidants through the daily diet. The immune system is also strengthened and hence various diseases and illnesses are prevented. Antioxidants help to prevent the ageing of the cells and hence allow the body to function well for a longer period of time. High cholesterol levels and heart disease have become commonplace these days. However, a regular supply of antioxidants will help to protect from these conditions. Eye disorders such as glaucoma and macular degeneration are also prevented due to the effects of antioxidants. Antioxidants also have a beneficial effect on the central nervous system of the body. Valuable sources of antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, meat and poultry.

Submitted on August 9, 2010