You've probably heard of antioxidants from advertisements, food labels, or beauty products. And, you know they're a good thing, but what exactly is an antioxidant & how does it work?
A little science lesson:
What is oxidation?
You've seen rust on an old car, right? That rust is the product of oxidation. Oxidation can happen to the cells in your body, too. Oxidation means that the cell has been damaged. To explain: All molecules should have 2 paired electrons. But, damaged cells have lost an electron and have become "free radicals" that are searching to steal an electron from another molecule and become whole again. This sets off a chain reaction called "oxidative stress".
One of the results of stealing electrons is "lipid peroxidation" (oxidation of the fat in your body). That means that it turns body fats rancid. Gross!
Luckily, antioxidants interrupt the oxidation process in your cells!
How do antioxidants stop the cellular damage?
Antioxidants distract the free radicals so that the cells are not damaged any further. The antioxidant sacrifices itself and donates an electron to the free-radical; this is called reduction.
Together the process of oxidation and reduction is called redox. Redox establishes balance - it is a homeostasis. It is a balance between the pro-oxidants and the antioxidants.
What causes this cellular damage (oxidation)?
Smoking, alcohol, infection, excess exercise, environmental toxins, heavy metals, imbalances of minerals and vitamins, oxidized polyunsaturated fats, trans-fats, radiation, injuries, surgeries, drugs, a lack of sleep, emotional stress
- any of these can become pro-oxidants.
Which foods deplete the body of antioxidants?
Foods fried in unhealthy oils, chemical food additives, processed foods, and refined flours. In addition, antioxidants are used up when in contact with polyunsaturated oils and rancid fats in oils. More are needed when any of these foods are consumed.
So, what if you don't get enough antioxidants?
You will see premature aging - age spots and wrinkles, for example. (Look at someone who has smoked for a long time- that's a face of oxidative stress!) Or, there could be lower immune function, an increase of allergy sensitivity, or irritable bowel disease. There could be an increase in inflammation in the muscles or joints. Arthritis is very much related to oxidative stress. There could be nerve degeneration, as in what happens in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Oxidative stress places a person at increased risk for some of the most serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer as well.
Jenny Yelle, MHNE Holistic Wellness Educator
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