By Bree D'Aleo
What are antioxidants?
WIthin recent years, the term antioxidant has become a buzzword and has gained a lot of attention on health blogs, in the media, on restaurant menus and in health-food stores. But what are these health enhancing substances? Antioxidants prevent or delay cell damage that is caused by free radicals, also known as oxidants (oxidation). Cell damage by free radicals is caused by a multitude of factors such as poor diet, environmental pollutants, toxins, medication and high antibiotic use, stress, and inflammation.
Why are they important?
Cells are constantly being damaged in the body by free radicals, which are the byproduct of cellular reactions, metabolism of foods, breathing and other vital functions. Contrary to what may be thought, free radicals are not entirely bad, but are essential in the functioning of our body’s immune system. Our liver produces free radicals and uses them for liver detoxification and white blood cells send free radicals to destroy bacteria, viruses and damaged cells.
Free radicals are said to promote chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and vision loss, and ramp up the aging process. However, antioxidants are known to help combat the ill effects of free radicals - hence the name anti-oxidant. So, as you can see, it’s a very fine balance between the amount of antioxidants and free radicals in the body - too much of one can create negative health effects.
In today’s age of strict diet labeling and nutrition-centric thinking, we have become supplement happy individuals who have made eating whole foods more complex than it once was. It’s really a simple task - eat whole food sources and you will receive most nutrients your body needs to function properly, with the exception of nutrient deficient individuals. Don’t be fooled into thinking that antioxidant supplements are going to prevent the aging process and wipe out all risks for disease, because they won’t. It truly is a balance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body - too much antioxidant intake, which is likely to come from taking a concentrated supplement form, throws off the immune system’s response to invaders. Another downside to supplementing with antioxidants is that you miss out on the vitamins, minerals and healthy fiber that are otherwise found in the whole, natural food form. Be sure to include these antioxidant-rich plant sources in your everyday diet for maximal health benefits:
- Colorful fruits and vegetables
- Red wine