People today are becoming more aware and are better understanding that what they put into their bodies can either lead to disease or prevent it. But, a key part in this disease prevention is linked to antioxidants, and that is a less understood, yet vitally important subject. Interestingly, the role that antioxidants play is of such importance that medical science is starting to link nearly twenty of the top diseases that plague Americans today to antioxidant deficiencies. Some of these diseases include: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, arthritis, mental illness, Alzheimer's disease, hypertension, and cataracts. Because levels of antioxidants can determine so much in our bodies, we may see the medical world in the near future start to test patient's blood for antioxidant levels, as this is one of the best indicators of the body's ability to prevent disease. To get a better understanding of antioxidants, the following paragraphs will take a look at what antioxidants are and why they are so important to our health.
As we all know, oxygen is a very important element, for without it we would die pretty quickly. However, oxygen is a reactive element, and in the body there are normal biochemical reactions where oxygen becomes unstable and does something called 'oxidize' other molecules, otherwise known as oxidation. This oxidation leads to cellular damage that leads to cancer, inflammation, arterial damage, and aging, to name a few of its effects. These unstable molecules (free radicals) are unstable because they are lacking an electron, so they scavenge about the body seeking for another electron from healthy cells, which causes damage. It is a process that is similar to a pin needle and a couch cushion. Think of the pin as a free radical and the couch cushion as a healthy cell in the body. The unstable electron-seeking free radical (pin needle) comes into contact with the healthy cell (couch cushion) and 'pokes' it. While just a few pokes doesn't create any real problem or noticeable effect, with many free radicals and constant 'poking' the couch cushion is destroyed and no longer is functionable.
Free radicals are created or come from a number of sources. Even just the air that is breathed causes some free radical damage due to the oxygen, which means that when one exercises, antioxidant intake needs to be even greater. Environmental toxins, cigarette smoke, stress, impure water, drugs and medications, burnt, BBQ'd, and fried foods are some of the greatest sources of free radicals.
Antioxidants are simply nutrients that help protect the body from damage that is done by harmful free radicals; they are chemicals that are capable of 'disarming' free radicals, reducing or preventing the damage they cause. Antioxidants help to disarm the free radicals by donating the extra electron that they need. Some of the more commonly known antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, plus beta carotene. Other plant chemicals known as bioflavonoids and anthocyanidins are also strong antioxidants.
Because free radicals damage any and every cell in our body, including the vital organs and our DNA, it is easy to see how disease results. When our cells are weakened and can't function optimally, the body as a whole has a weakened immune system, becomes more acidic, becomes stressed and fatigued, harbors more toxins, and many other such problems that directly cause disease. Surprisingly, according to Lester Packer, Ph.D in The Antioxidant Miracle, radiation exposure is so dangerous because it triggers the production of they hydroxyl radical, which is the most powerful and deadly free radical known. This demonstrates the magnitude that free radicals can have on our bodies.
Because the balance of antioxidants and exposure to free radicals is the balance between a healthy body and disease, getting enough antioxidant-rich foods is vital for good health and a long life. Below is a list of some of the highest antioxidant-rich foods available.
- Raw cacao
- Goji berries and other superfood berries (goldenberries, maqui, acai, and mulberries)
- Berries, including blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries
- All fresh fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens and broccoli
- Raw nuts and seeds
Eating a diet high in fresh, whole foods, especially from the above list will be a great way to ensure adequate intake of antioxidants.