Antioxidants: What Are They?

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How do they work, and why is it the new popular buzzword for everyone. Do you know exactly what antioxidants are and where they come from and the role they play in the body. Your answer may come in the form of “no, or I think so.”

Here is a basic description. Antioxidants are nutrients, a group of vitamins and minerals that can prevent cancer, heart disease and even the damages of normal aging. Skeptics will say it is another health ploy. As a sensible, health conscious consumer, here is what you can do. Learn the facts about antioxidants on how to use them to prevent diseases, boost your health and longevity.

Is it the Real Deal or Not

Many scientists and researchers offer the pros and cons messages. Foods rich in antioxidants may give protection against some forms of cancer and other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorder, immune dysfunction, loss of memory and coordination.

The nutrients currently attracting scientific emphasis include vitamins A, C and E: beta-carotene (a chemical cousin of vitamin A) and other similar compounds in the carotenoid group, as well as retinoid which are also related to vitamin A, and the mineral selenium. Statement like this, made by the director of cancer researches at the University of Arizona, remarked, “this is probably the most exciting area for chronic disease prevention today.”

Research links diets high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to lower rates of cancer, heart disease and cataracts proved that the antioxidants need a closer look to disease prevention. There are entities called free radicals; the mysterious side of oxygen that does foul play with oxygen. Oxygen is vital to all human and animal life. However, this same oxygen can do our cells harm. The activities of our cells that keep us alive also produce a destructive by-product. This destructive by-product is an oxygen molecule that is highly reactive and unstable; it is known as a free radical. Research now identifies these molecules in a range of fatal diseases as well as the process of aging.

Some free radical activity serves a positive means; the ability to destroy cells is basic to the body’s ability for defending itself against invaders. Many free radicals appear to serve no useful purpose. As a matter of fact, they inflict on healthy cells, damage that can initiate or promote a complex multi-stage process that may end in cancer. There are other causes for free radical induced other than those produced by the cells, our cells must also contend with free radicals resulting from common external hazardous sources such as ultraviolet light, x-rays and other radiation, heat, cigarette smoke, alcohol and some pollutants.

Possessing either too much or too little electrons, oxygen- free radicals act as if they are carrying molecular weight and try to establish stability by either gaining or losing their electrons. It’s these chemical chain reactions that produce even more free radicals – a million or more a day that cause our cells to sustain injuries to their membranes inner structures, and DNA, our genetic map.

Antioxidants- the Defensive Mechanism

Antioxidants-whether in the form of nutrients from our diets or enzymes made by our cells, are first-line defenders. As their name indicates, they have the ability to snatch and control unstable free radicals and even repair the destruction they produce. Various antioxidants do different jobs. Some deactivate free radicals or transform them to less toxic substances.

Some antioxidants may stop the chemical steps that trigger certain carcinogens (cancer causing substances) need to go through before they get into action. Many scientists suspect that a plentiful supply of antioxidants, carrying out a number of different protective roles, may help ward off the cell damages that can lead to cancer.

What we can do

Researchers inferred that there maybe thousands of antioxidants. You may have heard, or are familiar with these antioxidants vitamins A, C and E, minerals like selenium, zinc, beta-carotene, lycopene are all well-known antioxidants. There are others like zeaxanthin, catechins, proanthocyanidins and ally methyl tri-sulfide. These words in themselves are hard to pronounce but hold hope and lots more of them are to be discovered. In the meantime, it is not a bad idea to include these antioxidant foods in our diet. Most of these important compounds come from eating many plant-based rich whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Research points out that “20 to 30% of Americans dose themselves with vitamins.” Many experts advise against casual vitamin pill taking. “The easiest most scientifically substantiated advice is to cut down on animal products, eat more fruits, leafy greens and red yellow vegetables.” As nutritionists, we recommend getting a wide variety because different antioxidants can protect at different sites. Variety is more easily attained from a diverse diet. You have heard the statement, “variety is the spice of life.” Make it y our daily mantra of planning, including fruits and vegetables in your meal plans. You will feel better, look better and have more energy and stamina.

Questions to Answer

Researchers and scientist are still trying to find out how these substances work. They may not have definitive answers how these substances work to control free radicals or whether they have other functions, but what these scientists have in common is the “antioxidant effect.” The work on antioxidants continues, as they try to find what other roles they play in the body. In the meantime, visit your produce section, local farm market and choose your favorite fruits and vegetables that myriad the “rainbow.” Look for grapefruit, peaches, strawberries, mangoes, avocado, berries, cherries, tomatoes, lemons, broccoli, bok-choy, spinach, artichokes, cauliflower, carrots and eggplants. Eating a wide array of minimally processed foods will keep your body nurtured and nourished especially when you include these fruits and vegetables in your diet. You will definitely be rewarded with great health and longevity by slowing down the aging process.

About The Author:

Hope H Anderson invites you to take advantage of the wealth of nutritional knowledge available to you at http://www.hopenutrigarden.com. Once there, you can opt-in for her monthly newsletter, view the Newsletter Archive and enjoy her NutriGarden News blog.

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