Free Radicals and Anti-oxidants

How Antioxidants Work
Antioxidants minimize damage to your cells from free radical

An apple slice turns brown. Fish becomes rancid. A cut on your skin is raw and inflamed. All of these result from a natural process called oxidation. It happens to all cells in nature, including the ones in your body. To help your body protect itself from the rigors of oxidation, Mother Nature provides thousands of different antioxidants in various amounts in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. When your body needs to put up its best defense, especially true in today's environment, antioxidants are crucial to your health.

How Antioxidants Help Prevent Oxidation

As oxygen interacts with cells of any type - an apple slice or, in your body, the cells lining your lungs or in a cut on your skin -- oxidation occurs. This produces some type of change in those cells. They may die, such as with rotting fruit. In the case of cut skin, dead cells are replaced in time by fresh, new cells, resulting in a healed cut.

This birth and death of cells in the body goes on continuously, 24 hours a day. It is a process that is necessary to keep the body healthy. Oxidation is a very natural process that happens during normal cellular functions

Yet there is a downside.  The body metabolizes oxygen very efficiently, however 1% or 2% of cells will get damaged in the process and turn into free radicals."Free radicals" is a term often used to describe damaged cells that can be problematic. They are "free" because they are missing a critical molecule, which sends them on a rampage to pair with another molecule. These molecules will rob any molecule to find a molecule to pair up with.

The Danger of Free Radicals

When free radicals are on the attack, they don't just kill cells to acquire their missing molecule. If free radicals simply killed a cell, it wouldn't be so bad… the body could just regenerate another one. The problem is, free radicals often injure the cell, damaging the DNA, which creates the disease process. When a cell's DNA changes, the cell becomes mutated. It grows abnormally and reproduces abnormally -- and quickly. Normal cell functions produce a small percentage of free radicals, but those free radicals are generally not a big problem. They are kept under control by antioxidants that the body produces naturally. External toxins, especially cigarette smoke and air pollution, are "free radical generators”. In fact, our food and water also contain free radicals in the form of pesticides and other toxins. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also triggers substantial free radical production.

Getting Antioxidants in Your Diet

In the 21st century, people need to get more antioxidants in their diet to offset all these assaults. These toxins are found in the environment. If you live in a city, you breathe the air. The oxidative burden on your body is much, much, much higher than it was 200 years ago. It's a fact of modern life, so we have to take that into consideration

When you follow the USDA's advice to eat multiple servings of fruits and vegetables, you're compensating for the effects of environmental toxins. Your body simply doesn't produce enough antioxidants to fight the free radicals

What exactly do they do? Antioxidants work to stop this damaging, disease-causing chain reaction that free radicals have started. Each type of antioxidant works either to prevent the chain reaction or stop it after it's started.

Types of Antioxidants

 The role of vitamin C is to stop the chain reaction before it starts,it captures the free radical and neutralizes it. Vitamin E is a chain-breaking antioxidant. Wherever it is sitting in a membrane, it breaks the chain reaction.

Flavonoids are the biggest class of antioxidants. Researchers have identified some 5,000 flavonoids in various foods.

Polyphenols are a smaller class of antioxidants, which scientists often refer to as "phenols." Terms like phytonutrient and phytochemical are more generic terms that researchers sometimes use to describe nutrients and chemicals in plants.

It is clear that our bodies need an Antioxidant Defense Network, to fight off the free radicals that are attacking our bodies. The body needs a mix of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene, to neutralize this free radical assault. Multivitamins and vitamin supplements can provide the body with an antioxidant boost. Yet getting too much of some supplements, like vitamin E, can be harmful. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts contain complex mixes of antioxidants. That is the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods. Researchers continue to study the benefits of fruits and vegetables, identifying the complex antioxidants they contain. Quercetin, luteolin, hesperetin, catetchin, even epigallocetechin are some of the stars they have found -- the blockbuster flavonoids in our foods.

You can live your whole life without getting epicatechin 3-gallate, a flavonoid found in huge quantities in green tea.  However, if having it in your diet promotes better health, why not try it.