We talk about them, but do we really know what they are? When people talk about healthy foods, the benefit of antioxidants might get mentioned as often as protein, minerals, and other common nutrients.
What antioxidants do in the body is protect against damage that occurs from the metabolism of oxygen. When humans and other organisms metabolize oxygen, a chemical reaction takes place that generates reactive oxygen species (ROS). Also known as oxidants and free radicals, these damage DNA, create inflammation, and contribute to diseases.
The reason oxidants/free radicals are bad for you is because they’re missing electrons. Because of that, they have an unstable charge. They are programmed (molecularly charged) to pair up with other electrons, in order to neutralize this charge. When inside your body, oxidants/free radicals solve this problem by stealing electrons from your healthy cells.
This results in damage to your cells, which can be permanent and cause genetic mutations. While most are benign or have undetectable effects, some mutations can be dangerous. Cancer starts with a mutation.
How antioxidants work is by having spare electrons. If oxidants/free radicals encounter antioxidants first, they can “steal” spare electrons from them, instead of stealing them from healthy cells.
In short, donating electrons is how they are helpful in the human body.
In order for antioxidants to work, the free radicals need to encounter them before the body’s cells. This is why more antioxidants are believed to be better, because they increase the likelihood of that happening.
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