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How Antioxidants Fight Free Radicals for Your Health

Updated on April 21, 2011

Free Radicals? No thanks. I'll have some antioxidants please.

Image courtesy of MerckSource
Image courtesy of MerckSource

On a cellular level, your body has an ongoing battle between antioxidants and free radicals. Don't be alarmed. This is a normal process that everybody has underway each and every day. What you need to know is how to keep free radicals from taking control over your cells in this battle.

Damage Caused by Free Radicals in the Aging Process

Protein structures

Let's take antioxidants or the defenders first. What are they? How do they benefit in efforts to keep you healthy? They are the heroes in this situation coming to the rescue so to speak. These plant-based agents from foods act like protectors that neutralize free radicals. They do this by pairing an electron to the outermost shell of the radical oxygen molecules, which makes them harmless. Antioxidants are nutrients like vitamins A, C and E, minerals, and enzymes that can counteract the normal effects of oxidation in body tissue. These, along with beta-carotene, luteins, lycopene, and selenium make up the force to rescue your healthy cells in 1 of 2 ways. One is by breaking the chain of free radicals, which stabilizes them and causes them to decay into harmless atoms. Secondly, antioxidants can work to prevent the oxidation process. This oxidation or loss of electron is like what happens to cut fruit when the air gets to it, and it starts to turn brown. Antioxidant agents can prevent or inhibit this process of oxidation.

Dr. Whiting Explains the Effects of Free Radicals on Cells

That brings us to the other side of the battle, the frequent but not always offenders, free radicals. You see some free radicals occur naturally and do no harm to cells. Anyway, free radicals are atomic structures with an unpaired electron in its outermost shell, which are very reactive and result in reactions like oxidation. Free radicals are unstable. They search out the body to grab or donate electrons, which cause damage to cells, protein, and DNA.

Alton Brown Explains Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Even though some free radical production is normal, things like pollution, stress, smoking, exercise, and aging contribute to the production of harmful free radicals. Most often the body is able to protect itself from the damaging effects of free radicals. Yet, if free radicals produce in excess or if too few antioxidants are present, then damage occurs. It is even thought that free radicals play a part in disease processes like cancer. No one can avoid all free radicals, and you really wouldn't want to, since some are not hurting your body at all. So the key is really balancing the defenders and offenders. If you are serious about dodging the effects of harmful free radicals and getting the benefits of antioxidants, you will want to know where to get powerful forces to fight free radicals for your health. These antioxidants are found in many common foods. Some foods that are rich in antioxidant-packed nutrients are:

· Vitamin A / Beta-carotene--Dark orange, red, yellow, and green vegetables and fruits, such as broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangos, and cantaloupe.

· Vitamin C--Citrus fruits, berries, dark green vegetables, red and yellow peppers, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, papaya, and guava.

· Vitamin E--Vegetable oils like olive, soybean, and corn, safflower, as well as nuts, seeds, grains, wheat, wheat germ, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and legumes like lentils, split peas, beans, and dark green vegetables.

· Selenium--Brazil nuts, brewer's yeast, oatmeal, brown rice, chicken, eggs, garlic, molasses, onions, seafood like salmon and tuna, wheat germ, whole grains, and most vegetables.

USDA Top 10 Antioxidant All Stars featured from 20 listed on Alternative Medicine.

1. Small red beans (dried).

2. Wild blueberries.

3. Red kidney beans (dried).

4. Pinto beans

5. Cultivated blueberries.

7. Cranberries.

8. Artichoke (cooked).

9. Blackberries.

10. Prunes.

Why So Many Different Lists of Best Antioxidants?

You can look at different books and websites, and they will all feature different heavy hitters for antioxidant benefits. This list does not include either the ever more popular acai berry or the pomegranate, 2 antioxidants super stars. But they simply were not included in the foods tested. Each of them rank very high on most studies for antioxidant value though. The lowly red bean tops this list as the most powerful. Blueberries noted for the wild type having quite a bit more antioxidant value than the cultivated variety. No matter which list you go by, you can't go wrong with those "Power Rangers" for your health. However, just gorging on a few of these foods listed is not the best way to get optimal benefits. Remember that variety can still be the spice of life, even in foods we eat.

It is also noteworthy that some cooking can change the amount of antioxidant benefit in foods. For instance, russets have more benefit raw than cooked. But who eats raw potatoes? Boiling carrots reduces its benefit, while cooking tomatoes actually raises its benefit. That's good news if you use tomatoes in sauces, soups, and stews.So enjoying many of these antioxidant-rich foods would be the best way to get the most benefit. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute states that eating such a variety can reduce risks of cardiovascular disease. At any rate, a diet including plenty of antioxidant-packed foods can play a big role in fighting disease and keeping you feeling better.

Green and Black Tea are Detoxifiers of Harmful Chemicals

Both black and green tea can block damage to DNA caused by smoke and may have as much as 10 times more polyphenols than vegetables and fruits offer.

There is another way to get some of these antioxidants into our bodies to fight free radicals besides whole foods. These are supplements. There is no shortage of agents offered with the tall order of helping you overcome premature aging, wrinkles, and even reduce risks of certain diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Some are indicated to improve circulation, to fight arthritis, heal injuries more quickly, as well as to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. If sales are indicative of benefits, the order is being filled with supplements also. Even though Juan Ponce De Leon, the Spanish explorer, succumbed to defeat in his quest for the fountain of youth, the desire for maximum health status and longevity has not diminished. In that regard, the benefits of antioxidants in the fight against free radicals for your health has been shown effective. It seems easy enough to seek out these antioxidant-rich foods to eat and/or to take supplements fortified with them. These are a just few ways to get rewards from the battle of antioxidants against free radicals for your health.

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    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 6 years ago

      Thanks iZeko. With summer in full swing, it seems easier to have these fresh antioxidant-rich foods. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • iZeko profile image

      iZeko 6 years ago

      Very well written and informative hub! You’ve done a great job here, Cassidella! Really enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      MonicaA 7 years ago

      Good Work! Content is very informative and images are great!

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Thanks! Good to know you appreciate this info on antioxidants. Also, I visited your profile and noted that you just joined 3 days welcome to HubPages. Hope you will have lots of fun too! I look forward to reading some of your hubs later as well.

    • fucsia profile image

      fucsia 7 years ago

      very good hub!! great info.... thanks!!!

      I am also interested in nutrition and I published a hub on the role of vitamins

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Good to know that you appreciate the info. You're very welcome!

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 7 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      love the presentation, there is a lot of good info here.....thx

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Glad you stopped by and checked it out!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      That's cool - even better since I eat a lot of these things! It's always nice to have my 'hunches' confirmed.

    • profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Thanks, anglnwu. Glad you found it useful.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 7 years ago

      Your detailed information about how free radicals can cause cellular damage is useful. Thanks for the list of antioxidant foods too. Thumbs up.

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by elayne. Glad you like it!

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Impressive hub on antioxidants. Great info and layout.

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Thanks Pamela. I really appreciate that.

    • Cassidella profile image

      Cassidella 7 years ago

      Thanks Michael Jay. Glad you like it!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      Excellent hub packed full of great information. It looks very professional with the videos and pictures.

    • Michael Jay profile image

      Michael Jay 7 years ago

      wow! This hub is amazing. This is very informative and I really liked the lay-out. Great hub!