Combating Free Radicals with Antioxidants

Atom, the unit of every chemical in and around us, remains stable due to the presence of electron pairs in their outermost shell.  However, presence of one or more unpaired electrons makes them highly reactive and they exist in nature independently as free radicals.  When such free radicals involve oxygen, they are known as reactive oxygen species, a threat for our well being.  Low amounts of free radicals are always present within us due to oxidative reactions in our bodies and cause little harm when present within permissible limits. However, certain conditions like overdoing your exercise, stress, smoking, food additives, pollution, and regular exposure to sunlight amplifies the free radicals in our body.

 As their level increases, they start to dominate our bodies, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in our cell membranes being their chief target of attack. The unpaired electron in the free radicals look for their mates in the lipid membrane of a cell and take them away from it leading to lipid per-oxidation. This theft leaves the cell frayed and it slowly approaches death, leaving our bodies in complete jeopardy. These murderers of cells are the prime culprits behind cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological ailments, eye disorders, and premature aging,  and other diseases.

Still, Mother Nature is never unfair to us and hence has sent antioxidants as our saviour. Antioxidants are molecules which combat against the free radicals, drive them away from our bodies and give us freedom from several life-threatening maladies.  Antioxidants sacrifice their own electron and give it the free radicals. Since free radicals are now getting their share of electrons from the antioxidants, they spare the lipid membranes and the chain reaction of lipid per-oxidation is disrupted.  Our cells are now free from attack – they slowly restore their lost integrity and our bodis is saved from the adverse effects of free radicals. After giving up their electrons, the antioxidants themselves get modified into free radicals but it is hardly a bad news for our health.

These antioxidants adjust themselves with their new configuration without turning reactive and remain completely risk-free. Antioxidants set up two lines of attack for the free radicals. Vitamin E, coenzyme Q and beta carotene, present in the fat soluble cellular membranes make up the first line.  When free radicals come across these antioxidants during lipid per-oxidation, the latter halts the chain reaction and prevents it from progressing any further.  The 2nd line made up of certain chemical agents in the water soluble antioxidants like Vitamin C, catalase, peroxidise and superoxide dismutase hunt down the free radicals, make them inactive and free our bodies from their assault.

Apart from the above antioxidants, flavonoids, polyphenols, alpha-lipoic acid, quercetin and rutin are other anti-oxidants of great value to our bodies. Antioxidants go a long way to boost our immune system, clear the blood, control histamine release and relieve us from oxidative stress.  As a result, adequate supply of antioxidants leaves us with an acne-free, glowing skin and protects it from aging prematurely. It also keeps allergies, cardiovascular disease, bowel inflammation, arthritis and cancer at bay.

Healthy food is our chief source of antioxidants.  A balanced supplement of vitamins A, C, E and minerals will shoot up its level in our bodies and protect us from free radicals. Every food is enriched with a range of antioxidants, each specialised in dealing with a particular free radical. So we need to include an assortment of healthy foods in our daily diet to get a variety of antioxidants from each of them and create a shield against the free radicals.  Fresh, unprocessed food, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, chickpeas, tofu and nuts can be a good choice in this case. By cutting down your red meat consumption and steering clear of processed, deep fried foods, foods with high sugar and fat content you can enjoy the benefits of antioxidants to the fullest.

Adding quality supplements to your health regimen can also assist in providing antioxidants on a daily basis. Hence, consider the damage that free radicals can do to your body, choose your diet with care, and you will feel the difference in your health.  Liya Das. (TCC)

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