We are always hearing about antioxidants being useful in fighting free radical damage, but what does that actually mean?
Let’s consider what a free radical actually is.
Free radicals are a bi-product of a process called oxidation - the burning of oxygen in the body. During this process, some molecules lose electrons. Because electrons work in positive and negative pairs, the incomplete molecules begin to ‘seek out’ electrons to pair with, stealing electrons from other molecules and thus destabilising and damaging the cell. Over time, this can cause breaks in DNA, inefficiency of enzymes, damage to cell membranes and disruption of normal metabolic processes.
In a healthy functioning body, free radical production is controlled by the opposite of oxidation, a process called 'reduction.' This involves the constant transfer of electrons to reduce the number of single-cell electrons and their rate of reproduction. To regulate free radical production this way, the body needs – you guess it – antioxidants.
Many health problems we see today are due to this double-negative effect on this normal process.
1. Cell damage from free radicals INCREASES due to poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol, drugs, pollution, unhealthy foods and lack of physical activity
2. Our ability to fight free radical damage is REDUCED because modern diets do not contain sufficient antioxidants to balance the rate of free radical production
While free radical damage a natural part of the ageing process, modern lifestyles speed up of this process, increasing the likelihood of premature ageing and a range of diseases.
Illnesses most commonly associated with this kind of cell damage include heart disease, artherosclerosis, arthritis, and many inflammatory conditions.
You can give yourself a better chance at restoring your natural balance with two simple lifestyle choices:
1. Avoid pollutants and toxins such as those listed above
2. Consume more antioxidants!
Antioxidants are found in an abundance of natural foods including almost all fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits and dark leafy greens are particularly good. Brighter coloured fruit and vegetables tend to be more antioxidant rich, for example, english spinach over iceburg lettuce, tomatoes instead of potatoes.
Consuming the right amount of vitamins and minerals is essential. Vitamins C, A, and E are especially good antioxidants, as are magnesium, iron, selenium and zinc. Again, all of these are abundant in a wide range of natural foods.
You can also supplement your intake of these nutrients with products widely available through supermarkets and health food stores. Bee products such as Royal Jelly, Bee Pollen and Propolis are excellent examples of natural supplements that are high in antioxidant activity and contain a good range of all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes the body needs for healthy function.
Hopefully, this article has helped you understand a little more about the relationship between free radicals and your health, and why antioxidants play such an important role in supporting your health.