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  • Writer's pictureThe Virtual PT

Antioxidants Explained

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Have you ever sat down to another glass of red wine and mumbled something about "the antioxidants"?

(Me neither...)

We see it advertised on labels, hear it thrown around in health circles, and we generally know antioxidants are a good thing...but what do they actually do??

Well the short answer is: they help stabilize free radicals.

So let's start there.

What are free radicals?

Travel with me for a moment...back to your high school chemistry may remember learning that everything is made up of atoms, which have rings of electrons swirling around them.

In a normal atom, all of the electrons on the outer ring are paired and balanced. They just bounce around, waving like a friendly neighbor at nearby atoms.

Free radicals, on the other hand, have an unpaired electron on their outer ring. This is a no-go because it makes them VERY unstable...they are desperate to find an electron mate to pair with (who can relate?!) and are racing around like maniacs trying to steal another electron from other atoms. Then if they do steal an electron from a nearby atom, then THAT poor guy turns into a free radical and the cycle continues...

Why are free radicals harmful?

This violent quest for another electron can damage many important parts of nearby cells like DNA strands, proteins, cell membranes, etc. This damage plays a major role in the development of cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

What causes free radicals?

These pesky atoms are produced in one of two ways. They can be made by our own bodies or come from environmental exposures.

1) In our own bodies they are produced during the metabolism process. When the mitochondria-

*flashback to 9th grade biology*

(I couldn't resist)

-produces energy from oxygen, free radicals can be formed as a natural byproduct.

2) They can also be created with exposures to environmental toxins such as pollution, cigarette smoke, and radiation.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are magical compounds that float throughout your body, carrying a bunch of extra electrons around to donate. When they see a free radical about to wreak havoc, they quickly offer up an electron. This generous donation turns the free radical back into a normal, happy atom, thus mitigating the potential damage to nearby cells. (I feel like there is a snicker's commercial idea in here somewhere??)

Now what?

So now that we understand the science behind are some practical tips:

1) Load up your body with the antioxidants it needs to fight off cancer and other diseases by eating a TON of fruits and vegetables!! These foods are LOADED with antioxidants.

2) Do your best to avoid environmental exposures to carcinogens like pollution, cigarette smoke, unnecessary medical imaging, asbestos, etc. if possible.

Knowledge is let's get to it!

-The Virtual PT

Questions? Comments?

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