What is an antioxidant?
Why is it important to inhibit oxidation? Because oxidation to cells in the human body is what rust is to metal; it is the breaking down of your body at the molecular level. And yes, that’s a bad thing.
Why you want to prevent oxidation in your body
Think about those conditions that you normally associate with aging – dry skin, wrinkled skin, arthritis in the joints, muscles shrinking, hearing or eyesight failing – all of these and other conditions of aging are largely the collective effect of oxidation on your cells. Your cells naturally use oxygen, which can naturally generate free radicals. The damage from free radicals is what scientists believe causes not only aging but such serious illnesses too, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Thus, anything that can put the kibosh on oxidation is something you want plenty of.
That’s a lot of bad news. The good news is that there are oxidation blockers – also known as antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals by generously donating one of their own electrons, putting the breaks on the free radical chain reaction of electron stealing.
Where do I find antioxidants?
Vitamins C and E in particular appear to protect your body from the destructive effects of free radicals. Vitamin E and vitamin C are the most abundant and efficient antioxidants in your body.
- Vitamin C in particular does a bang-up job of combating the free radicals that occur as a result of pollution and cigarette smoke. As well, high vitamin C intake appears to lower rates of many forms of cancer, but especially cancers of the esophagus, mouth, and larynx.
- Vitamin E in particular squelches cardiovascular disease, which it does by defending your cells against LDL cholesterol oxidation and by preventing plaque from forming in your arteries.
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Oily fish
How do I get more antioxidants?
Some recent studies suggest that the process of trying to max out on antioxidants, a process known as antioxidant therapy, has no effect on mortality and may even make matters worse. Trying to up your antioxidant intake by ingesting lots of vitamin pills has not proven out in these studies to be a safe alternative to getting your antioxidant vitamin intake from natural food sources.
Some studies using vitamin pills even appear to suggest that they can have a negative effect on your body’s ability to fight free radicals, concluding that they had no benefit and, in the case of vitamin A, may have an adverse effect on the incidence of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Best source of antioxidants: food
Until we understand why vitamin pills affect the body differently than vitamins sourced from food, just aim to get your antioxidants the good old fashioned way: from a healthy, balanced diet, which should include at least five to eight servings of vegetables and fruits, such as those listed above.