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What Exactly are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?

One of the big health buzz words of recent years has been antioxidants.  We all know they are good for us, but what exactly are they, and what role do they play in preventing disease?
 

What is an antioxidant?
 
Antioxidants are nutrients and / or enzymes. Some are produced naturally in the body including Superoxide Dismutase, Catalase, and Glutathione. They are also acquired through the diet. The greater number of different coloured foods you eat the better, and raw food is naturally richer in antioxidants. 
 

What's is a Free Radical

The most vital role of antioxidants is fighting free radicals.

There are literally millions of processes at work in your body. Each of these processes depends on other factors to work efficiently. Oxygen is at the very heart of human health, but although it is life giving, it has impact on the body in other ways too in that it creates oxidant substances. It is these oxidants (a “side effect” of oxygen), that are commonly referred to as Free Radicals. They are also created in other ways, not least the highly toxic modern world we live in and lifestyle issues such as pollution, poor diet, alcohol and cigarettes.

Each cell in your body is composed of many different molecules. Each molecule is made of up one or more atoms, which itself contains one or more elements (a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons). Everything is joined together with chemical bonds.
 
Each atom is constantly seeking a state of balance and stability (exposure to toxins makes this process harder). To do this, atoms acquire and lose electrons, and also seek to bond with other atoms to protect their outer shell.
 
During this process, the complex chemical bonds can split, and free radicals form. These substances are inherently unstable, and just like an atom, try to find stability by stealing electrons from other healthy cells. They primarily attack DNA, but also proteins and fats within your body. During these attacks, the threatened molecule can itself transform into a damaging free radical, a chain reaction occurs and the normal function of your cells is disturbed.
 

What is the Role of Antioxidants in This Process?
 
For a person in optimum health, the body is quite capable of dealing with free radicals, but this depends upon an adequate source of antioxidants. In a poorly functioning system, the amount of free radicals can simply become too much for the body to handle, and cellular damage begins to accumulate, and increased signs of ageing will begin to show.
 
Antioxidants mop up the unstable free radicals. By binding together the harmful molecules, they limit the damage and can even repair damage already caused.  In short, antioxidants are absolutely essential to protect against the ageing process and degenerative disease.
 

Sources of Antioxidants
 
There is a vast body of scientific research that has proven the essential role of antioxidants, and identified the very best sources

  • Vitamin C – perhaps the most famous antioxidant, also supports the role of Vitamin E, protects the blood vesseles. Best food sources, leafy greens, blakcurrants, oranges, kiwi fruit, Papaya, peppers (See Acerola Cherry  - a highly bio-available food state vitamin C Supplement)
  • Vitamin E – powerful antioxidant that especially protects from skin damage. Best food sources - sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, wheat germ, corn, nuts, seeds, olives, spinach, asparagus
  • Vitamin A - best food sources - carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and cantaloupe, green leafy vegetables, mangoes, peas, peaches, papayas, liver, beef
  • Flavonoids (also commonly referred to as bioflavonoids), plant metabolites (phytochemicals). Best food sources grapes, black cherries, blackberries, bilberries and blueberries, apples, apricots, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, pinto beans, and tomatoes.
  • Carotenoids – plant compounds such as lycopene pigments, protect your eyes and skin from the damage of sun exposure. Best food sources - Carrots, butternut squash, spinach, red pepper, apricots, mangoes, tomatoes
  • Isothiocyanates - sulphur-containing phytochemicals. Best food sources: Broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower
  • Polyphenols rich in flavonoids. Best food sources - Dark chocolate, red wine, tea, coffee, onions, flaxseed, apples, grains,
  • Coenzyme Q10 (coQ10) - such an important antioxidant, it is found in every single cell in your body, with higher concentrations in the heart. Best food sources: Lean beef, chicken breast, heart, kidneys
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid - more potent than CoQ10 and Vitamins E and C. Because it is water and fat soluble, it acts both inside and outside of your body’s cells. This is completely unique and no other antioxidant acts this way. Best food sources - spinach, broccoli, beef, yeast, can be found in Zell Oxygen
  • Selenium – an important trace mineral that both acts as an antioxidant and supports your own body’s ability to create antioxidants. Food sources of Selenium – Brazil nuts, cereals, meat, shrimp


As broad and varied a diet as possible, preferably with at least some raw food elements is essential to keep your antioxidant levels topped up.  Broad Spectrum Supplements are naturally rich in antioxidants, and are the most natural way to supplement your diet and protect against free radical damage

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