If you want to know how antioxidants work, picture yourself as the president,
a king or queen, a movie star, or another well-known figure.
A threat to your safety could pop up at any time – and that’s why you have
a team of bodyguards surrounding you. If a source of danger comes your way,
your bodyguards are trained to swoop in and get between you and this threat.
Your protectors are willing to suffer the consequences themselves, just to keep
you from getting hurt.
Every day, the DNA in each cell in your body faces about 10,000 attacks from
cell-damaging forces known as free radicals , which are unstable oxygen
molecules that have lost an electron. Free radicals are naturally produced
as your body turns fuel to energy, but you also get them from pollution in air
and water, stress, smoking and radiation from the sun.
These volatile molecules cruise around your body trying to stabilize themselves
by stealing electrons from other molecules. When they succeed, they create
still more free radicals, causing a sort of snowballing procession of damage.
Free radicals don’t just occasionally pop up here and there. Up to 5% of the
oxygen that each cell uses is converted into free radicals.
Free radical damage is thought to play a role in the accumulation of low-density
lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and the lining of your artery walls.
This can lead to a narrowing of the arteries called atherosclerosis, which
contributes to heart disease. And when free radicals damage DNA inside the cells,
the results can be cell mutations that lead to cancer.
Free radical assaults on your eyes may lead to cataracts and macular degeneration,
which are common causes of vision loss in people over 50 years of age.
Researchers think that free-radical damage – also called “oxidative stress” –
play an important role in Alzheimer’s disease. And many scientists believe that
free radicals are the primary force behind aging itself.
Free radicals can develop and quickly attack your cells faster than the blink of an eye.
And unless something is immediately available to “step in,” this free-radical
free-for-all can cause irreparable damage. That’s where antioxidants come in.
Remember that analogy, in which you where a famous person preyed upon
by harmful threats? Those bodyguards forming a human shield around you are
the oxidants in your system. Every time you eat fruits, vegetables, or other
antioxidant-rich foods, a flood of these protective compounds enters your bloodstream.
They travel throughout your body, stepping between your body’s healthy cells and
the pillaging free radicals, offering up their own electrons to neutralize the free radicals
and keep your cells out of harm’s way.
The Big Antioxidant Nutrients
Just as your body produces free radicals, it also produces antioxidants. Some of these are enzymes created solely to squelch free radicals. But these defenders can be overwhelmed if you’re under serious attack – from car exhaust or cigaret smoke, for example – and they may be insufficient to handle rising levels of free radical attacks as you get older.
Every day, a small percentage of free radicals slip past your natural antioxidant defenses,allowing them to do damage.
That’s why you regularly need to call in the reserves to supplement your own forces:
antioxidant compounds from your diet. There are literally hundreds of natural food compounds that act as antioxidants in your body.
Though researchers are investigating new antioxidant compounds every day, most scientific study has focused on three types in particular – vitamin C and E and carotenoids.
There is no doubt that antioxidants play a crucial role in reducing the risk for all kinds of diseases,” says Roc Ordman, PhD, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. “The published scientific evidence is simply overwhelming.”
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