Among the important discoveries of the past few decades has been a greater understanding of the fundamental role played by oxidation in our bodies’ ability to stay healthy, resist disease, and enjoy a long lifespan.
In a nutshell, it’s all about oxygen. Our cells need oxygen. But that same essential element is broken down in the body to produce a wild card called a free radical. This free radical can start a chain reaction that leads to the death of the cell. Antioxidants put an end to these dangerous chain reactions.
It is now known that free radicals are involved in causing cancer and other age-related ailments such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, and arthritis. Less life-threatening but still troubling, free radicals also contribute to wrinkles and other obvious signs of aging.
The production of free radicals, while a naturally occurring process, is speeded up by certain stress factors such as toxic chemicals in our environment and poor digestion. Cigarette smoking causes an increase in free radicals, as does exposure to ordinary everyday pollution like exhaust fumes, or ozone in the atmosphere. Even sunlight and exercise– which we know is necessary for health– results in increased production of free radicals.
Some experts estimate that each cell in your body is bombarded 10,000 times a day with free radicals. They are busy causing cell mutations, which can damage the immune system and speed the aging process. Against such an onslaught, what can we do to help protect ourselves?
Well, nature has actually given us some weapons, in the form of antioxidants.
Antioxidants are found naturally in some foods, in the form of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Many foods have antioxidant properties (which is why experts advocate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and lean protein).
For instance, beta-carotene is found in orange and dark-green produce. Cantaloupe, carrots, peaches, tomatoes, sweet peppers, beets, and pink grapefruit all contain a good supply of beta-carotene.
Vitamin C is found in sweet peppers, citrus fruit, mangoes, papaya, kale, and peas.
Vitamin E occurs naturally in pumpkin, spinach, turnip greens, nuts, broccoli,
and Swiss chard.
But while antioxidants may be abundant in nature, it’s not always possible to get a generous supply in the modern American diet. And in fact, one would not want to over-indulge in certain antioxidant foods (such as red wine).
That’s why there are supplements available which contain the three aforementioned vitamins as well as minerals such as zinc and selenium, also known to be antioxidants.
Even in today’s fast-paced world, it is possible to obtain the maximum amount of protection against free radicals. The goal is to become educated, stay vigilant, and make one’s health a priority.