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Antioxidants: Why We Need Them and How to Get Them

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Thanks to the Internet, most everyone today is familiar those things called antioxidants. Far fewer, however, understand why these mysterious substances are good for the human body. This article will explain why you need them, and more importantly, how to

From time immemorial, people have sought cure-alls to protect themselves from various ailments.  Though for centuries, people often fell under the spell of medicine men and road-side snake-oil salesmen touting miracle elixirs purported to cure everything from gout to pleurisy to hair loss

The health conscious today, however, are much more health savvy due to the vast amount of information now easily accessible largely, via the Internet and an arsenal of health-related books on the shelves. 

Many individuals routinely conduct their own research on the properties of various vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other natural substances that come to public attention said to improve the immune system, fend off viruses and disease, and cleanse the body of toxins.  And it is for this very reason that most everyone today is familiar with those things called antioxidants.  But while most are aware that these mysterious substances are good for the human body, far fewer know why.

In the nutshell, science has identified “oxidation” of the body’s internal molecules as a prime causal factor in contracting a wide range of diseases.  Everything from cancer to arteriosclerosis to cataracts all appear to have an oxidative component to their origin. 

Fortunately, antioxidants--Vitamins C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherols), as well as flavonoids and carotenoids--have been well documented as having the ability to inhibit oxidation of these endangered molecules and thus assist the body in warding off a number of ailments when used as preventative agents (as opposed to using them as curative or therapeutic). 

But all antioxidants do not provide the same protection nor function in the same way, and so it’s imperative to understand that they are not interchangeable.

Vitamin E, for example works primarily by neutralizing “free radicals,” atoms within molecules that are missing one or more electrons and so are very reactive (a bit of science that isn’t necessary to understand to get the gist). 

Vitamin E functions in what has been termed a “sacrificial manner,” by transferring one of its own electrons to the targeted molecule--a hydrogen atom--thus destroying the free radical.   Vitamin E works primarily in the lipid (fats) portions of cell membranes.

Vitamin C, however, does what it does within a completely different area of the cellular make-up--inside the liquid inside cells. 

Unlike Vitamin E which is soluble in fats, C is soluble in water.  C, however, works in tandem with E in targeting radicals before they have a chance to damage lipids.  In the process, it protects the immune system by stimulating antibodies and immune system cells, while being a catalyst for the biosynthesis of the amino acid carnitine that regulates the nervous system.

It is also instrumental in helping the body absorb iron and break down histamine (the inflammatory component of allergic reactions).

Fortunately for us, antioxidants are readily available from a number of natural food sources.  For example:

*Vitamin C is found in a number of fruits (including berries, lemons, melons, oranges, kiwi, and tomatoes) and vegetables (including asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, and potatoes).

*Vitamin E is easily acquired from vegetable oils (including almonds and a number of other nuts, peanut butter, spinach and other green leafy vegetables).

*Flavonoids are found in soy, fruit, olive oil, cinnamon, oregano, and red wine.

*Carotenoids are found in fruits, vegetables, and eggs.

While natural sources are almost always a better source of antioxidants than supplements, supplements (and that doesn’t mean multiple vitamins) are better in the long run than none at all.  But remember to read the dosage on the supplement bottle because it is possible to produce toxic levels in the body if taken to excess.

References:

http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/antioxidant.htm

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/how-antioxidants-work1

http://www.medicinalfoodnews.com/vol01/issue5/anti

images via sci.uf.edu and wikipedia.org

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2 comments

Jessie Agudo
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Posted on Oct 27, 2010
DeeBee
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Posted on Oct 13, 2010

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James R. Coffey

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