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Antioxidants and Why We Need Them

Updated on May 26, 2015

Best Defense: A Brightly Colored Diet Rich in Fruits and Vegetables

Our Enemy: Oxidation

Oxidation is the chemical reaction that occurs when when various substances ... everything from cut fruit to human cells ... encounter oxygen molecules. Sliced apples turn brown. Silver tarnishes. Iron rusts. Copper develops the patina of green verdigris. All of these examples illustrate the chemical process of oxidation. Antioxidants are our best friend in the battle against oxidation!


Cause of Aging ... Free Radicals

Oxidation helps to break down the food we eat and make its energy available to fuel our bodies. However, as the body burns oxygen, molecular segments known as "free radicals" are formed. Exposure to pollutants, such as cigarette smoke, radiation (from sunlight as well as other sources), and environmental toxins, causes free radicals to form. A free radical is an atom, molecule or ion with an unpaired electron. Unpaired electrons are reactive, and seek to bond with other molecules. This typically occurs as a chain reaction, creating the instability we know as oxidation. Known free radicals include hydroxy radicals, hydrogen peroxide, lipid peroxides, hypochlorite radicals, superoxide, nitric oxide, hypochlorite radicals and singlet oxygen. Excess free radical oxidation in the body is believed to contribute to and excerbate the aging process in general, and degenerative diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, macular degeneration, cataracts, arteriosclerosis, and the like, in particular.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals. Sometimes referred to as "free radical scavengers", examples are certain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbs, spices, flavonoids, polyphenols and the hormone melatonin. While the body does manufacture antioxidants, it doesn't produce enough of them to keep pace with the onslaught of environmental pollutants that we are exposed to daily in our modern world. Different antioxidants neutralize different free radicals, in different tissues, and/or in different parts of a cell. For instance, vitamin C stops a free radical chain reaction before it begins. Vitamin E breaks that same chain. It is important to consume as wide a variety of antioxidants as possible on a regular basis in order to gain maximum benefit.

One of the easiest ways to take in an extensive range of antioxidants is to simply eat as varied a diet as possible, and one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Think about the color of the foods you consume ... orange pumpkins, carrots, cantelope and sweet potatoes, yellow squash and peppers, green broccoli, kale and spinach, peppers, cabbage, red apples, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries, etc. The variety of color insures the variety of antioxidants gained from your diet. Legumes, nuts and whole grains are also rich sources of antioxidants.

Supplementation Augments Even the Best Diet

The reality of modern life is such that it isn't always possible to eat an ideal or varied diet. As well, modern farming practices have depleted some soils of essential minerals. Fruit and vegetables are frequently shipped across country, if not from other countries, and are not ripened on the vine. (Vine ripened produce is measurably more nutritious.) Therefore, it can be advantageous to take antioxidant supplements even with a varied diet.. As with diet, variety in supplementation is key. Too much of some antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, C, selenium and beta-carotene, can have undesirable side effects. Common antioxidants to supplement include vitamins C, and E, beta-carotene, CoQ10, selenium, l-cysteine, alpha- lipoic acid, bilberry, sage, oregano, grape seed extract, glutathione and melatonin.

In Conclusion

It wasn't all that long ago that all we had was anecdotal evidence that those who "ate by the land, lived". Today we have science both supporting and supplying the reasons why those who eat healthily live longer. The Bible says in Proverbs 25:2, "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out."

How wonderful that He is revealing to us that He has provided us what we needed most for optimal health, all along!


O'Mathuna, Donal, and Walter L. Larimore. Alternative Medicine: the Christian Handbook. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001. 298-302. Print

Bottom Line's Super Healing Unlimited: 1,729 Remarkable Secrets from the World's Greatest Health Experts. Stamford, CT: Bottom Line, 2006. 156-59. Print.

Balch, James F., and Phyllis A. Balch. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Pub. Group, 1997. 43-46. Print.

Null, Gary. The Complete Encyclopedia of Natural Healing: a Comprehensive A-Z Listing of Common and Chronic Illnesses and Their Proven Natural Treatments. Stamford, CT: Bottom Line, 2003. 8-9. Print.


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    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 2 years ago from US

      Arachnea ... thank you so much for your kind and positive comment!

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 2 years ago from Texas USA

      I like your positive stand on using supplements. It's the lovely image at the top that caught my attention for this. This is a well-written hub.

    • Sidders profile image

      Sidders 6 years ago from usa

      Good and important information ... thank you for writing this!

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

      EXCELLENT informative hub! If there is ONE thing we could do to support our immune would be taking antioxidant supplements to assist a healthy nutritional diet. Vitally important info here and we all need to heed!