What Are Antioxidants

Earlier this week I posted an article on facebook which glossed over the role of antioxidants in our diet and I wanted to expand on that. Antioxidants are a huge topic in healthcare these days so it is important that we understand what is actually being discussed. Antioxidants are chemicals that help to reduce, reverse, or prevent damage done to our bodies by oxidative damage.

Oxidation is a chemical process that can be found in most high school chemistry textbooks. It’s basically rusting. More specifically (without getting into complicated valance electrons and orbits and the like), oxidation is when one chemical passes electrons to or takes electrons from another one to try and become more stable. This happens in the body naturally as a tool used by the immune system to destabilise foreign invaders like toxins or organisms. To do this our immune system produces chemicals called Free Radicals which are unstable and cause Oxidative damage to become more stable.

This is all well and good because this process is short lived and under control. The problem arises when we take into account that we are putting free radicals into our bodies daily through our exposure to toxins in the pollution, chemicals in our hygiene and make-up products, pesticides on our food, and our poor diet in general. These free radicals are not controlled and spread throughout the body and instead of helping us by destabilizing foreign invaders they cause the Oxidative damage to our own tissues.

Oxidative damage to our tissues has been linked to multiple diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, auto-immune diseases, and arthritis and is thought to be involved in many others. This is where the importance of antioxidants comes in. Antioxidants are chemicals that can help stabilize Free Radicals without becoming destabilized themselves. Thus they can take one the Oxidative damage themselves and then be harmlessly processed out of the body. We even produce some natural antioxidants ourselves in our liver, specifically one called Glutathione. But we can’t keep up with the level of Free Radicals in our bodies these days.

So where do you get these wonderful helpers from? Our good, nutritious foods like dark green leafy veggies, dark berries, and all the wonderful sources or the Vitamins A, C, and E we can get our hands on. By having a diet rich in anti-oxidants we can combat the influx of Free Radicals into our system and reduce our risk for the conditions that I mentioned above. The article that I posted earlier this week cautioned us that antioxidants are not the “silver bullet” they have been made out to be. I want to counter that and say, “Sure. They are definitely not a cure-all but they sure are important.” Oxidative damage can cause a lot of grief if left unchecked but eating a clean and healthy diet with lots of veggies and fruits can really make a big difference. In fact, eating a diet high in antioxidants has been linked to decreased arterial blockage in patients with atherosclerosis and to decreased insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes.

So that is the story of antioxidants. I hope that it has cleared up any confusion you might have had. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to e-mail me or leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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