Antioxidants are everywhere…or at least that’s what it seems like. I hear about them on the radio, see them talked about television, and read about them online. Antioxidants have become an important, and sometimes controversial, topic when it comes to health. But what exactly are antioxidants and what do they do? Hopefully I can clear up some of the confusion surrounding antioxidants and provide a little clarity when it comes to this interesting topic. First thing’s first, to use an old cliché, let’s define antioxidants. According to the National Institute of Health, “Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.”
So now we have a general idea of what antioxidants are, but how do they actually help ‘prevent or delay some types of cell damage?’ The purported benefits of antioxidants are a result of their ability to help stabilize ‘free radicals’ within the body.
Free radicals are molecules that are missing a key structural component on the chemical level as a result of oxidation. Think along the lines of a potato being exposed to the open air after it is peeled or cut. The potato will start to change colors as it is oxidized. The same thing happens to the cells in our bodies, to a different degree.
Our cells and skin don’t change color, but there is some degree of natural oxidation. Most of this oxidation is controlled by our bodies, but typically a small portion of the molecules remain oxidized. To stabilize themselves, these molecules, or free radicals, will scavenge other cells and try to take the key chemical components they are missing.
The result of this scavenging has been hotly debated, but there is some research that suggests that this cellular damage can lead to physical signs of aging, disease, and other health issues.
Where do Antioxidants fit in?
After that science lesson, you are probably wondering how this relates to antioxidants. Well, antioxidants do exactly what the name implies. They provide those extra components to the oxidized molecules to help stabilize them. The belief is that these antioxidants can neutralize the free radicals, thus preventing them from trying to scavenge your body’s cells for the missing stabilizing components.
In short, antioxidants are substances that can help stabilize oxidized molecules in the body, and prevent them from damaging cells in an attempt to scavenge key chemical components. There are countless studies to see the effects of free radicals, and subsequently antioxidants, on the human body. Currently, there are many promising, potential health benefits of antioxidants, and continuing research is helping to out more about them. Hopefully this article helps you better understand antioxidants, and clears up some of the confusion surrounding these interesting substances.