What are antioxidants?
Monday, 12 June 2017 | Editor
Let’s get straight to it. What exactly are antioxidants?
We know we need them and we think they are good for us, but why do we need them? Why are they so crucial to help with preventing chronic disease and the ageing process? We use the term a lot, but do we understand what it actually means and its implications for health? Let’s take a look…
An antioxidant is basically something that reverses or stops ‘oxidation’. But what exactly is oxidation?
In scientific terms, oxidation is the gain of oxygen by a substance. Imagine a freshly cut apple or avocado turning brown, a nail becoming rusty or a copper statue turning green. These are examples of everyday oxidation. In most instances the process of oxidation causes damage or destruction.
Oxidation creates free radicals, boisterous little things that have been freed from their usual home to go and wreak havoc in the neighbourhood. These free radicals are unstable and need to be ‘caught’ before they can cause more damage to other healthy functioning cells. These free radicals negatively affect cell membrane health, proteins, and DNA expression which can trigger a number of human diseases. Antioxidants are our natural protectors.
Antioxidants are abundant in nature, because plants contain antioxidants to protect themselves too. The nutritional content of natural whole foods is just what our body needs to negate the effects of our own biochemical processes. However we sometimes struggle to obtain sufficient antioxidants in the modern world due to a nutritionally deficient society – where urbanisation, overuse of agricultural land, intensive farming, stress-fuelled society and easy access to processed foods , we are unable to provide our body with the essential nutrition required to defuse this free radical activity.
Not only is it a natural process within the human body but we also can take in free radicals from our environment. This can be in burnt or fried foods, chemicals as pesticides are in home and personal products and various other exposures through our environment.
Can you see now why antioxidants are implicated in healthy ageing, reducing the virulence of chronic disease, improving cognition and mental health and maintaining and improving general wellness?
So what can we do to protect ourselves?
Include key nutrients in your diet that help support high antioxidant activity, such as:
Producers of health supplements have long devised products with many or all of the necessary components of antioxidants above in one tablet or capsule. You can see a list of those available on this site here.
1. Griffin, M.D., Xing, N. and Kumar R. (2003) Vitamin D and its analogs as regulators of immune activation and antigen presentation. Annual Review of Nutrition, 23, 117-145.