In this generation, we’ve all heard the words ‘free radicals’ or ‘antioxidant’ tossed around at some stage, and the most popular dietary change in recent times has got to be the ‘detox;’ but what does it all mean? Do we, as a population, wholly understand the processes that go on in the body on a cellular level? Lets start with the basics.
What are Free Radicals?
Put simply, a free radical is a naturally formed, reactive chemical that is created within the body when an atom or a molecule loses an electron. Free radicals aren’t all bad, in fact, they play a role within the body just like most things that are naturally forming. The problem comes when we have free radicals in excess, which is often caused by smoking, or passive smoke, toxins and pollutants from the environment, and radiation.
It’s no secret that the world we are subject to is full of pollutants; toxins in the air from burning fuels and power stations, and harmful chemicals in our foods and drinks.
But what makes this all the more worrying is what free radicals actually do when we have an abundance of them in our bodies. Free radicals are hazardous to the body, in that they are able to damage all major parts of a cell, which studies say may play a large role in cancer and other serious illnesses.
What are Antioxidants, and what are They Good For?
Like most potentially harmful substances within our bodies, the free radical has its own nemesis; the neutralizing, free radical-destroying antioxidant. When we intake antioxidants, our bodies use those chemicals to completely neutralize free radicals. While most antioxidants are acquired through dietary choices and supplements, our bodies do naturally create some of them.
It has been shown in various studies that an increase in antioxidants actually prevents the kind of free radical damage that is associated with the development of certain cancers. So a detox, as they say, is a very beneficial process to undergo- though a lifetime dietary commitment is preferable and potential much more beneficial to our bodies.
Where do we Find Antioxidants?
If you include in your meals dark colored fruits such as berries, grapes, prunes, and pomegranate you are getting resveratrol, one of the main antioxidants in the planet. Same thing happens when you incorporate green leaves, and red-orange veggies. Beta-carotene, found in carrots for example, Lycopene, Selenium, Vitamins A, C, and E are all examples of dietary antioxidants that will go into your body and neutralize the harmful free radicals and reduce the opportunity for them to damage cells.
As mentioned earlier, there are antioxidant supplements that can be taken alongside a healthy diet, though their effectiveness is debated among professionals. Generally, studies have shown that antioxidant supplements have very little effect on the development of cancer, and that a mixture of dietary antioxidants is of much more benefit to us in a number of ways.
While a supplement is the purified version of the chemical, each fruit or vegetable contains a complex mix of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and as such are preferable for an overall healthy lifestyle.
So in the end it shows that not all processes in nature can be replicated by science, or not yet anyway. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
Dr Montserrat Rodriguez
Doctor expert in Therapeutic Nutrition