Antioxidants: The Cell Protector

By: Matt Weik

Our bodies are constantly under attack!

Thanks to antioxidants, our cells are shielded from harm. Antioxidants help protect the body from free radical damage.  Here’s a visual for you:

Cut an apple open and sit it on the table and watch it after a few minutes. Slowly you’ll see the apple starts to turn brown—this is due to free radical damage.  So how can you protect the apple from becoming rotten?  The simple solution would be to put a little lemon juice over the apple after you cut it open if you aren’t going to eat it immediately.  The antioxidants from the lemon juice protect the apple from being attacked.

Another example is the free radical damage found on poles or railings when they rust. Rust is due to the oxidation of the metal.  Antioxidants are to cells as Rust-Oleum is to metal.  The more coats of Rust-Oleum that you put on the pole, the longer the pole is protected from being broken down.  The same can be said for the human body.

Unfortunately, free radical damage can do numerous things to cells in our bodies—this can range from mutating the cell, damaging the cell, and even killing the cell. If any one of these things happen, it can negatively affect an individual’s health.  Again, these effects can take place without any prior symptoms.


What exactly are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are chemicals that reduce the rate of oxidation to cells and biomolecules. Oxidation is where chemical reactions transfer electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent which results in changing the original chemical to something different.  Free radicals are the main culprits in damaging cells.  Antioxidant-rich foods and supplements help prevent free radical damage.

A large amount of antioxidants are found in dietary supplements that are used to help prevent cancer and heart disease—not to mention to help with everyday overall health. A good diet can yield thousands of different antioxidants whereas dietary supplements only have specific antioxidants in their products for the most part.


What is the purpose of antioxidants?

Antioxidants are amazing chemicals that we all need. They help boost the immune system, which prevents cellular damage and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.  There is a lot of research being done on antioxidants and the research that is out there today all looks good.  Antioxidants may slow down, prevent, and even reverse certain diseases that come about due to cells that have been damaged.  This all sounds great, but a main attraction that many people will find beneficial is that research is actually showing that antioxidants could be a natural way to slow down the aging process.


Exercise actually causes free radical damage? But I thought exercising was beneficial!?!?

It is beneficial. Don’t think that you need to stop exercising immediately because you are worried about free radical damage.  However, the fact of the matter is, it’s true that exercising does cause free radical damage inside your body.  The good news is that the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.  When exercising, oxygen consumption is increased (at least it should be if you are working hard enough).  This increase in oxygen causes an increase in free radicals, which damages cells and cause muscular fatigue.  The body then uses antioxidants that are already found in the body to help reduce the free radical damage.

The good side of this story is that evidence shows that exercising strengthens the body’s antioxidant defense system. It is because of this finding that diseases associated with oxidative stress are found at a lower incidence rate with those individuals who exercise.


What are some specific antioxidants and what foods should you look for?

Vitamin E, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin A, and Coenzyme Q10 are all antioxidants that protect lipid membranes while Vitamin C, Glutathione Peroxidase, Superoxide Dismutase, and Catalase protect the body from free radicals that are found in water-based cytoplasm.

What some people don’t realize is that we get a great amount of antioxidants right from our diets. Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts are all great sources of antioxidants.  Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, all have an abundant amount of antioxidants in them.  Spinach and peppers are both great vegetable sources of antioxidants.  Some good sources of grains that have a good amount of antioxidants are barley, maize, and millet.  A surprising source of antioxidants is in cocoa products such as dark and milk chocolates.  For those who prefer to drink their antioxidants good news!  Coffee, red wines, and teas such as black, green, and white are great for battling free radical damage.  Those looking for a healthy snack can also find antioxidants in almonds, pecans, and pistachios.

No longer do you have to lose sleep over free radical damage (that’s actually a joke as I personally don’t know anyone who does). Antioxidants are found in many of the common foods we already eat daily.  If you find you aren’t eating many of the examples listed above, it’s highly recommend that you try adding them into your diet.  The health benefits are plentiful and will ensure that those free radicals are kept at bay.