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The word “Antioxidant” is used a lot these days. You hear about antioxidants to eat, drink and apply to your skin and hair for improved health and beauty. You hear that they are powerful and necessary but perhaps you actually have no idea what they are, what they do and why exactly they are necessary.
The first step in answering that question is to understand what oxidation is. Oxidation is best shown in the examples of a fresh cut apple turning brown, metal getting rusty, or a copper penny turning green. It’s a break-down of the molecules in the cells. In our bodies the process is similar. Technically it’s when a molecule is missing an electron (the molecule is called a free radical) and steals it from the nearest molecule which then steals one from the next molecule and so on, resulting in the break-down of a cell. When the cells break down it causes any number of things including signs of aging like wrinkles, poor health of any organ like the skin, brain or liver. Free radical/oxidative stress is also suspected to be an underlying cause of cancer. When a body is under oxidative stress the immune system as well as any system in the body can be compromised. Some of the major causes of oxidative stress are smoking and pollution, alcohol and drugs, unhealthy foods that contain preservatives, pesticides, unhealthy oils or even too much protein or sugar and viruses or infections that lead to an unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut.
Antioxidants are substances found in plants that can help fight off the deterioration of the cells. They have a protective effect on the body. There is a quote from Michael Pollan the author of the book Food Rules that says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” that really covers the best way to fight oxidative, free radical damage to the body and boost your health.
The main antioxidants are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta Carotene but zinc and selenium are also high on the list as is astaxanthin. Not all foods are rich in antioxidants and no one food covers all of them. The best advice is to “eat a rainbow”, meaning eat as many fruits and vegetables of varying colors that you can. The more vibrant the color, the better it is for your health. Mother Nature is sneaky that way; the healthiest foods are also the most beautiful!