Antioxidants—it’s one of many health buzzwords that get thrown around today. Take a trip to a health food store in your neighborhood and you’re bound to come across tons of products boasting the inclusion of antioxidants. You might even have picked some of these products up now and then, having vague recollections of what you’ve heard about the role antioxidants play in preventing cancer and other diseases. Still, you may have no idea how antioxidants actually make you healthier.
Don’t be embarrassed. With the wide array of supplements available, you’ve probably come to take other people’s word when it comes to how they work. Fortunately, there is plenty of science behind antioxidants, and it’s actually not that hard to understand.
Let’s start with the name, which implies that antioxidants work against “oxidants” or more accurately, oxidation. The most common example of oxidation is rust, but really it refers to when something is broken down organically. When you digest food, use energy, or experience muscle growth, oxidation occurs. Needless to say, plenty of oxidation goes on in the human body.
While oxidation is neither a good or bad process, it can release destructive byproducts known as free radicals. See, technically, oxidation refers to an atom or molecule losing electrons. Free radicals are simply the molecules that are left with an unpaired electron. Unfortunately, many believe that these unstable molecules, in search of an electron, have the potential to destroy DNA and harm the human body.
This is where antioxidants come in, molecules that can neutralize free radicals, preventing or reducing the amount of harm they’re able to cause. Antioxidants are present in many of the foods we eat, but they also exist naturally within our bodies. Many include antioxidants as a supplement or part of a diet as a way to improve their overall health.
As with many aspects of nutrition, there are a wide variety of thoughts and opinions surrounding antioxidants. Still, you should now be able to understand the thinking behind what makes so many people rely on the power of antioxidants every day.