Author: Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.
We’ve all heard the news: Antioxidants reduce your risk for heart disease and certain cancers and boost your immune system. So what exactly are antioxidants and how do they work?
As you know, every cell in your body needs oxygen to function normally. Unfortunately, the utilization of this oxygen produces harmful by-products called free radicals. Free radicals are also created from environmental pollution, certain industrial chemicals and smoking.
Outside the body, the process of oxidation is responsible for a sliced apple turning brown and the rusting of metal. Inside the body, oxidation contributes to heart disease, cancer, cataracts, aging, and a slew of other degenerative diseases. In other words, free radicals are the enemy.
So why isn’t everyone falling apart? Your cells have their own special defense technique to fight off these radical monsters. What’s more, scientists have unfolded compelling evidence suggesting that certain vitamins (specifically C, E, and beta-carotene) can actually enhance your body’s ability to ward off these free radicals and therefore prevent oxidation. Appropriately, we call these vitamins antioxidants.
What Can Antioxidants Do?
To date, numerous studies have shown that antioxidants may protect against the following:
Cardiovascular Disease: Findings from studies suggest that vitamins E and C, and selenium might play a role in future strategies for heart disease prevention by reducing the chance for LDL-cholesterol oxidation.
Cancer: Studies suggest that vitamins E and C, selenium, and beta-carotene might have a protective effect against several types of cancers. Keep in mind that many factors appear to influence the development of cancer, including heredity, smoking, nutritional excesses and deficiencies, and the environment.
Macular Degeneration: Scientists report that a daily mix of antioxidants may slow macular degeneration in people who already have the disease. The recommendations include extra E, C, beta-carotene, and zinc. You may also need to take extra copper, because the zinc can often times interfere with absorption.
Immunity: Researchers theorize that antioxidants might help to strengthen the immune system by preventing the action of free radicals.
Exercise-Induced Free Radical Damage: Recent studies have shown increased free radical activitiy following strenuous exercise. Therefore, vitamin E might play a role in reducing muscle inflammation and soreness after bouts of vigorous workouts.