“Be sober and vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” 1 Peter 5:8
Our bodies are made up of cells with molecules, and molecules consist of atoms. Molecules (atoms) like to have paired electrons. When a molecule is damaged and losses an electron it is know as a “free radical”. This causes it to become unstable. Free radicals want that electron back so they go around looking for electrons to steal from other molecules. They steal electrons from other cells turning them into free radicals as well. This in turn causes those cells to look for electrons to steal, causing a chain reaction.
You know, like the shampoo commercial- tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends and so on and so on. Before you know it your body can have an excessive amount of these damaging molecules.
Now free radicals aren’t all bad. Your body makes them on purpose. We actually need them, because they are responsible for our inflammatory responses and our immune system killing off things like viruses and bacteria. They activate our white blood cells. So we do want some of these free radicals.
They are also naturally created through metabolism. They allow muscles to adapt to exercise and the body adapt to stress. So at normal levels free radicals are a necessity.
The problem occurs when we have an over abundance of free radicals, far more than we need. This is called oxidative stress. They start damaging our other cells and even damage our DNA, altering it. The cells can’t function normally. When excessive damage occurs those cells can die. This can trigger many diseases.
Some of these conditions are aging, heart disease, cataracts, sunburn, Crohn’s disease, cancer, atherosclerosis, Rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory diseases, ulcers, neurological diseases and more!
External triggers of excess free radical production are stress, UV rays, herbicides, pollution, smoking, medications, alcohol, immune system, inflammation, processed foods, deep fried foods, exercise, chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, etc.
So, that same stress that free radicals help your body to adapt to can cause an over abundance of free radicals that contribute to your demise.
Antioxidants are molecules that donate electrons to the free radicals in effect neutralizing them. This reduces the amount of oxidative stress on your cells and the damage done in your body. Antioxidants do not become free radicals when the give their electron away, because they are more stable.
Our bodies produce some antioxidants to combat the normal load of free radicals that it makes. However, it just can’t keep up when there is an excessive load of free radicals.
Adding foods that have antioxidant powers helps your body neutralize the free radicals. Foods that contain vitamins A, C, and E, beta carotene, lycopene, leutin, zinc, polyphenols, and selenium. These are just a few of the different antioxidants.
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants. Other foods include milk, liver, butter, eggs, nuts, coffee, seeds, legumes, whole grains and meats.
Vary your diet, so to vary the types of antioxidants you consume. It is best not to focus on just one type of antioxidant.
Not so fast…
However, your intake of antioxidants should not eliminate free radicals, just keep them in check. The goal is NOT to eradicate them.
We need the free radicals for our health, that’s why our body makes them. So some antioxidants are good, but very large amounts may not be.
For example, excessive free radicals can cause cancer in your body, but those same free radicals are what your body uses to fight the cancer.
Yes, I’ll give you a minute to wrap your brain around that…..
It’s a complicated thing.
When you are well, those antioxidants can keep the free radicals down to keep you healthy. However, if you are sick-for example have cancer, the antioxidants work against you. They block the production of free radicals that work with your immune system to fight the cancer and actually promote the spread of the cancer.
At least this is what studies are showing. The scientists and researchers really don’t fully understand it. The research is conflicting because it is complicated. They are still learning about it. Some believe there may be different types of free radicals. Studies/trials are producing different results.
There is no recommended daily amount of antioxidants. The best thing to do is to eat a diet with a variety of healthy foods. This will give your body a healthy dose of antioxidants.
It is NOT advised to load up on antioxidant supplements because they may provide too many antioxidants to your body. This may hamper your immune system and inflammation fighters.
It seems to me that it would be better to reduce the environmental triggers that produce the excessive free radicals to begin with. Consider the level of pesticides, chemicals, alcohol, processed foods, medications, etc (see above for more triggers) you consume on a regular basis. Make a point to clean up what you put into your body. This could reduce your free radical load to more normal levels, possibly reducing your risk of illness. But that is just my untrained opinion, there’s no research behind that.
So eat those antioxidant foods, but no need to get crazy with it- Except for the coffee, of course. That’s understandable. 😉