Free radicals are capable of doing enormous amounts of damage in your body. They can cause oxidative damage inside of your system which can lead to huge complications and issues. Luckily, antioxidants are capable of stopping these free radicals dead in their tracks, as well as preventing oxidative damage from occurring.
Free radicals and antioxidants are present in pretty much any living thing on earth. However, it seems that plant life contains more of each rather than animals. Both free radicals and antioxidants are needed to maintain a healthy life for any living thing.
The key to it all is maintaining a balance between the two, because only then can you be at optimal health. One common misconception is that all free radicals are bad and need to be eliminated from your body. This isn’t actually true. Your immune system actually uses free radicals to eliminate certain bacteria which can cause serious infections.
A major occurrence that happens when many people neglect to maintain the careful balance between free radicals and antioxidants is called oxidative stress. During this period of oxidative stress, molecules which are often used for maintaining proper functions become damaged. In some situations, these cells can even die, which can cause further complications.
They way that antioxidants work is somewhat complicated to explain. Balancing antioxidants and free radical can be difficult, and there are a few mechanisms which are responsible for this balance. Let’s take a deeper look into these complicated functions.
How Do Antioxidants Function
To get started we need to talk a bit about atoms, the particles that make up all of matter. There are 3 main components in atoms: neutrons, protons, and electrons. Both the neutrons and protons make up what is known as the core of the atom. The electrons are particles that are in constant motion around the core of the atom. The inside of the atom where the core is located is positively charged due to the presence of the protons, while the outside is negatively charged because of the electrons.
When two or more atoms become linked together, a molecule is formed. Multiple molecules which are joined with each other create substances which end up as building blocks for our physical forms. Proteins, fats, and DNA are all types of substances which are part of our body.
Metabolism is what enables the formations of all organisms. It consists of chemical reactions which are absolutely vital for sustaining life. This means that metabolic functions are present in all living things and are a key part of life. There are a variety of different metabolic functions, but most of them can be separated into two different actions: the breakdown of bigger molecules and the grouping of smaller molecules.
In some occasions, when the metabolic process is in action, electrons which are part of the atoms in the molecules which are being modified by the process become lose and separate from the atoms. The result is an unstable atom. Eventually, this unstable atom has the ability to become a free radical. These radicals have the ability to interact with other molecules and in some situations cause damage to them. Additionally, when these interactions happen, there is also a chance that the molecules which are being involved in the reaction can become free radicals, as well.
This is where antioxidants come into play. These special little molecules are able to donate an electron which can be used for replacing the lost one in the atoms which have now become free radicals. Once this is done, the atoms become stabilized and are no longer able to cause any additional damage.
The Formation Of Free Radicals
There is nothing more complex than the human body. All of the functions within it are designed in a very specific way in order for the whole body to function smoothly. Even as our metabolism breaks down and rearranges molecules, our body should still function flawlessly. The problem is that some activities actually cause an imbalance between the free radicals and antioxidants, which should always be kept within an optimal range.
There are a few things that can cause this imbalance to occur. Here are some activities that can result in the creation of too many free radicals, which of course, creates an uneven balance in our body:
- Drinking Alcohol
- Smoking Cigarettes
- Too Much Radiation or Sun
- Environmental Toxins and Air Pollution
- Too Much Exercise
- Infections Caused Via Various Means
- Too Much Copper, Zinc, Magnesium, or Iron In the Body
- High Blood Sugar
- Oxygen Deficiency or Surplus
- Vitamin C and Vitamin E Surplus
As you can see, it’s not very difficult to find yourself in some of these situations. If you continue experiencing these conditions, eventually you will end up experiencing oxidative stress. If you are constantly under oxidative stress, your body will eventually end up showing it, most of the time by speeding up your aging process. Besides the increased aging, you might also develop an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other potential problems.
Antioxidants Are All Around Us
With free radicals being such a big problem, most life forms have developed mechanisms which are designed to defend their system against these free radicals. Humans, for example, are able to produce an antioxidant on the cellular level known as glutathione. That is our primary defense against these pesky molecules.
Vitamins C and E are also antioxidants which are absolutely vital to the existence of human life. Nearly all antioxidants which we use for defense against free radical are absorbed from food. Most of them come from plants, although animal foods also contain some antioxidants.
Because of this, we should always ensure that our diet is full of vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based food like legumes, grains, and nuts. All of these deliver benefits which we can take advantage of, but more importantly, they deliver the antioxidants we need to fight free radicals. One food that stands out from the others is berries. They are filled to the brim with various antioxidants.
Just because vegetables and fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants, it doesn’t mean they can’t be acquired anywhere else. There are plenty of other good sources of antioxidants like tea, coffee, and everyone’s favorite chocolate, in moderation of course. There are even speculations that most of the antioxidants which are utilized by people living in the Americas come from coffee, although, this might also be due to the fact that our diets are very low in antioxidant-rich foods.
Some companies end up adding antioxidants such as vitamin C to the processed foods that they offer to the consumers. The main reason for doing so is to increase the shelf life of these foods in a similar way that natural foods last longer due to the effects of vitamin C.
There Are Many Different Types Of Antioxidants
There are two major classes of antioxidants: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Both are absolutely vital to our health. The water-soluble antioxidants usually dilute with the fluids outside and inside of our cells and protect our bodies from there. The antioxidants that are fat-soluble are generally limited to functioning from within the cell membrane.
One of the most common water-soluble antioxidants is the famous vitamin C. It does an enormous amount of work to protect your body. On the other hand, vitamin E is the fat-soluble antioxidant that functions from inside the membranes of your cells to protect your body from oxidative damages.
Flavonoids are another group of antioxidants that can do some pretty amazing work to help with the defense of your body. They are generally associated with lowering the chances of developing coronary heart disease. Flavonoids are usually abundant in most plant foods, which is another reason to start eating plenty of vegetables and fruits.
Fighting free radicals isn’t the only thing that antioxidants are capable of. There are other health benefits we can take advantage of because of antioxidants. Turmeric and olive oil are an excellent source of these antioxidants which contribute in other ways.
Oleocanthal is an antioxidant found in extra virgin olive oil which has the ability to fight inflammation. Curcumin which is found in turmeric is also capable of fighting inflammation and reducing its effects.
Many people turn to supplementation to get the antioxidants they need when their balance is in question. However, overdoing it with supplements is a real risk. As we mentioned earlier, the important part isn’t taking as many antioxidants as possible, it’s maintaining the careful balance between antioxidants and free radicals. Just because most people are deficient in antioxidants, that doesn’t mean you have to take as many as possible. You should find the right amount for you and stick to it carefully.
Another issue which is difficult to get around is that when supplements are made, each compound is isolated. This can be a really bad thing since there hasn’t been enough research determining how each of these compounds functions independently.
It is a possibility that some antioxidants are powerful because of other ingredients which come alongside when you ingest vegetables and fruits. Besides this, the nutrients which aren’t being delivered by the supplements are also incredibly beneficial to your health and omitting them from your diet means you are missing out on health improving benefits.
There has also been a lot of research done regarding the toxicity of antioxidants. It turns out that high doses of antioxidants can lead to increased risks of death, which is obviously not something you would expect from supplements that promise to improve your health. This shows that too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing.
The best way to ensure that you get the right amount of antioxidants is to improve your diet and make sure that you have a variety of foods which are rich in these exceptional compounds. Your body will only absorb and utilize what it needs.
Validation of this comes from a study which was performed on two different groups of participants. One group drank blood orange juice and the other used water with vitamins C powder diluted into it. The results showed that the group that drank the real juice had significantly higher levels of antioxidants in their system. This means that real foods are always the best source of antioxidants.
However, if you live in an environment where it might be difficult to get fresh foods that contain all of these vital antioxidants and nutrients, it is much better for you to at least add a small amount of supplementation to your diet, which should deliver the bare minimum you need to fight free radicals and ensure you are healthy.
Don’t fall for misinformation about free radicals. Yes, technically these molecules are harmful and can cause damage to the body. However, taking an insane amount of antioxidants can result in big problems, as well. The thing to keep in mind is that you need to preserve the balance between the two, not to eliminate the free radicals.
The best way to ensure this balance is in the right spot is to diversify the different types of antioxidant-rich foods into your diet. Supplements are also an option, but you have to be very careful with the dosage of these supplements. Overdosing on these supplements will certainly lead to problems which you might struggle with for the rest of your life.
One thing that many people don’t think about is simply trying to stay away from the activities that cause an increased amount of free radicals in your system to begin with. Smoking, drinking, and overexerting yourself are all huge contributors to free radical levels and should be avoided or limited as much as possible.
If you feel that your balance between free radicals and antioxidants isn’t in the right place, you should mention this to your doctor before attempting to fix it on your own. They will be able to perform tests to verify this and tell you the best course of action that you should take. Not all sources of antioxidants might be the right choice for you.