The popularity of antioxidant-based supplements has ballooned over the last few years. We see advertisements for pills, juices and bars that tout claims ranging from "stop the aging process" to "prevent cancer". And while, in selected products, there is an element of truth to these claims, it's critical to understand the role antioxidants play in our body to evaluate these supplements appropriately. It's helpful to have a base knowledge of the key body processes that are involved.

Antioxidants, as the name would imply, counter oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that results in electrons being transferred from a substance to an oxidation agent. Common oxidation agents include halogens (iodine, etc), peroxide, ozone and bleach. Oxidation is a common process and is manifested in the outside world in processes such as explosions and metal corrosion. Oxidation is also a routine process inside our bodies and, although destructive, is chemically critical to sustain life.

The oxidation process results in the production of free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules containing unpaired electrons. These unstable molecules, like a magnet pulling pins from a pile, will start chain reactions that result in damage to cell membranes throughout our body. This cellular damage can be visibly observed from the accelerated free radical production that a sunburn can cause (leading to skin damage), or even in the normal course of aging.

Free radicals literally scavenge your body grabbing electrons and damaging cells, proteins, and, most critical, DNA. This same oxidative process also causes peeled apples to turn brown, oils to degrade and become rancid and iron to corrode into rust.

Due to ongoing biochemical processes in the body, free radicals are a normal part of our system. A healthy immune system is typically able to control the existence of free radicals and minimize their ability to damage cells. And, in fact, not all free radicals are harmful. For example, our immune system will manufacture critical free radicals to manage and destroy virus and bacteria. Other free radicals produce vital hormones. Day to day bodily functions depend on certain types of free radicals. But even the benefits of free radicals rely on their destructive capabilities, and if not controlled, they will ravage the body inside and out.

Antioxidants are organic compounds capable of counteracting the damaging effects of oxidation in animal tissue. They interact with free radicals and interrupt the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. The primary antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. There are three potential sources of antioxidants: natural production by the body, certain food types, and nutritional supplements. Even a healthy body is unable to produce sufficient quantities of antioxidants on its own. Studies have also shown that required levels of antioxidants are not supplied from food intake. Consequently, it is important for most individuals, especially as we advance in age, to supplement their diet with substances containing abundant levels of antioxidants.

The body, a healthy diet, and selected supplementation will work synergistically to ward off the destructive effects of free radicals. Effects that can lead to heart disease, cancer and other major disorders.

Author's Bio: 

J.D. Bell is one of the over forty crowd that has recently had his first child. He is dedicated to maintaining a healthy lifestyle to ensure he can be around to play ball with his future grandchildren.

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