What are Antioxidants?

Oxidation—one of the body's natural chemical processes—can produce “free radicals,” which are highly unstable molecules that can damage cells. For example, free radicals are produced when the body breaks down foods for use or storage. They are also produced when the body is exposed to tobacco smoke, radiation, and environmental contaminants. Free radicals can cause damage, known as “oxidative stress,” which is thought to play a role in the development of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, eye disease, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. In laboratory experiments, antioxidant molecules counter oxidative stress and its associated damage.

The body can produce its own antioxidants and also obtain them from food. Antioxidants are abundant in vegetables and fruits and are also found in grain cereals, teas, legumes, and nuts. Examples of antioxidants include anthocyanins, beta-carotene, catechins, coenzyme Q10, flavonoids, lipoic acid, lutein, lycopene, selenium, and Vitamins C and Vitamin E. Many antioxidants are also available as dietary supplements.

Although antioxidant molecules counter oxidative stress in laboratory experiments, there is some debate as to whether consuming antioxidants—in food or supplement form—actually benefits health. Antioxidant supplements are often synthetic (man-made), but some of these synthetic forms may not have the same effects on the body as antioxidants that occur naturally in foods. In addition, some beneficial properties may be lost when antioxidants are extracted from foods to manufacture supplements. There is also some concern that consuming antioxidants in excessive doses may have negative effects.

Reference:
http://nccam.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm

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