Antioxidants are naturally occurring chemicals in foods that help to counter the detrimental effects of oxygen free radicals, which form during normal metabolism and through external factors such as x-rays, ultra-violet radiation and pollution.

Oxygen free radicals have been implicated in the development of several diseases including cancer and heart disease, highlighting the need to consider antioxidant levels as part of preventative medicine.

Cells are composed of many different types of molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined by chemical bonds. Normally, bonds don’t split in a way that leaves a molecule with an odd, unpaired electron. But when weak bonds split, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are very unstable and react quickly with other compounds, trying to capture the needed electron to gain stability. Generally, free radicals attack the nearest stable molecule, “stealing” its electron. When the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself, beginning a chain reaction. Once the process is started, it can cascade, finally resulting in the disruption of a living cell.

Some free radicals arise normally during metabolism. Sometimes the body’s immune system’s cells purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides can also spawn free radicals. Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable, or if the free-radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur. Of particular importance is that free radical damage accumulates with age.

How Antioxidants May Prevent Free Radical Damage

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-“stealing” reaction. The antioxidant nutrients themselves don’t become free radicals by donating an electron because they are stable in either form They act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease.

Vitamin E – is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant in the body and one of the most efficient chain-breaking antioxidants available. It is a primary defender against oxidation. It is also a primary defender against lipid peroxidation (creation of unstable molecules containing more oxygen than is usual).

Most of the antioxidants we consume come from plants. They include vitamins A, C and E, carotenoids such as beta-carotene, some minerals, phenolic compounds and other naturally occurring chemicals with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can help guard against heart disease, cancers and the effects of radiation, pollution and ageing. For example. The best sources of Vitamin E are vegetable oils, cereals – particularly in the germ of whole grains, legumes and seeds.

Recent research shows the risk of cancer and heart disease is considerably lower in people who consume 5-7 serves of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables. This is supported by extensive studies which indicate that diets high in antioxidant rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables, offer significant protection against other age-related degenerative diseases.