Antioxidants, the darlings of nutrition and cosmetics alike, have garnered a lot of attention. We toss the word around in conversation, telling our friends our pint of blue berries is full of antioxidants, whatever they are. We know they are good for us, we know they are in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, red wine, green tea, and a host of other foods and beverages but we aren't sure what they are or what they do that makes them so special... until today. Time to trade in that vague foggy idea floating around for a definitive understanding.
Antioxidants are any vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, or molecule that protects our cells from the constant onslaught of free radicals. Free radicals? Another term commonly thrown around that deserves our attention. The technical definition is: " Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells. They're created when an atom or a molecule (a chemical that has two or more atoms) either gains or loses an electron (a small negatively charged particle found in atoms). Free radicals are formed naturally in the body and play an important role in many normal cellular processes"(1).
Pretty much they are unsteady little things in search of wholeness. They travel around searching for the one thing that will complete them and make them stable, another electron to fill that open space. They steal them from our unsuspecting cells, by doing so they damage our DNA and cells unless something intervenes. This is where antioxidants come in. They give up their electrons, but without becoming unstable themselves. By doing so they protect our cells and our DNA. Keeping free radicals in check is important to protect not only our reproductive organs but it is an important factor to overall good health.
Am I the only one with images of tiny villains sneaking around on the inside of my body attacking my innocent little cells? I definitely chose some loaded words to describe free radicals. Do your best to remove the human attributes and evil motives my choice of words may have conjured up and you are well on your way to having a working knowledge of free radicals and antioxidants.
1. National Cancer Institute. (2014, January 16). Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention. Retrieved December 30, 2014, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants#r1