The term antioxidant is used often when discussing nutrition, however the function that antioxidants play in our bodies is a complex chemical process. In simple terms, antioxidants slow down the rate of a type of chemical reaction called oxidation. Most oxidation ractions inside the body are harmful. Antioxidants perform this function by combining with and blocking a class of chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals are extremely reactive and mainly enter the body as a result of pollution, but they are also created by the body inside the cells in the mitochondria when the body converts glucose to energy.
1. Antioxidants are beneficial to the body because the process by which plaque and cholesterol stick to the inside of veins and arteries is an oxidative reaction. Having sufficient amounts of antioxidants in the blood stream drastically reduces the accumulation of plaque inside the arteries, thereby greatly reducing the incidences of heart attacks and strokes. While there are many ways to cholesterol in the bloodstream, having ample amounts of antioxidants available means the cholesterol that is found in the body is not causing problems.
2. Free radicals also are responsible for most forms of cancer. Free radicals freely enter cells and interact with RNA and DNA during the process of cell division. This interaction results in either improper cell division leading to cell death, or even worse, the cell become cancerous. Antioxidants are capable of binding with the free radicals while they are still in the bloodstream, but they also can interact with free radicals inside the cell during cell division. Studies have shown that proper levels of antioxidants in the body can drastically reduce the chances of most types of cancer, most notable prostrate and breast cancer.
Antioxidants come from a wide variety of foods and are commonly available in most supplements. Some of the more common antioxidants are Vitamins A and C, Beta-carotene, Vitamin E and Selenium. Vitamins A and C are found in large quantities in most fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene is found in carrots, brocolli, spinach and apricots. Vitamin E is found in most grains, as well as peanut butter and nuts. Selenium is found in red meat, chicken, eggs and dairy products. While each of these nutrients has its own set of special uses inside the body, all of them also act as antioxidants within the bloodstream.