To understand the value and importance of antioxidants, you must first understand the destructive results of free radicals.
Free radicals occur naturally as a result of normal, daily reactions within your body. Essentially, when a molecule is a free radical, it is an unstable molecule which contains a free electron which is seeking a connection. These molecules seek to complete this unstable existence by latching on to tissues such as blood vessel linings or cell membranes, creating a chronic state of inflammation within the body. This on-going inflammation eventually results in damage to various tissues of the body. Antioxidants bind to the free radicals, thus preventing the damage they would normally cause.
The damage caused by free radicals has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and many other conditions and illnesses. Free radical damage is also believed to contribute to many other degenerative aspects of aging, such as wrinkles, hardening of arteries, and some of the loss of mental acuity that sometimes occurs with age.
Antioxidants are available in many different forms and substances. Vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) are antioxidants in addition to their other benefits to your health and well-being. Selenium and zinc are two minerals which are also antioxidants.
Other compounds; cysteine, glutamic acid, and glutathione, for example, are also antioxidants, as are natural and herbal products such as ginkgo, hawthorn, rosemary, green tea extract, and grape seed extract.
Vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene, is water soluble and can be found in vegetables such as spinach. Vitamin A is important for skin health, helps growth in children and protects against night blindness in addition to other benefits.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) is crucial to the body’s ability to produce collagen, an important protein that keeps skin damage minimal. Collagen can delay the development of wrinkles and saggy skin by helping skin hold onto its elasticity. Vitamin C also expedites the body’s ability to repair tissues so wounds heal more quickly. It is also important in the body’s ability to absorb and use several other nutrients.
Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol), like vitamin C, is not produced or stored in the body, so it must be constantly replenished through diet or supplementation. It encourages the proper development of muscles. It can help boost the effectiveness of the immune system, primarily by making it more resistant to bacterial and viral infections. Working with other nutrients, vitamin E can help prevent development of cataracts.
Selenium is a trace mineral, that is, the body does not need a large quantity for health. However, even in small quantities, in addition to its role as an antioxidant, selenium helps keep cell membranes healthy, helps the thyroid gland and pancreas function properly, and can help prevent dandruff in some people. A link between low selenium levels and HIV/AIDs victims is being explored.
Zinc is also a trace mineral. Zinc helps in the healing of wounds, helps maintain the senses of taste and smell, aids in normal growth, helps the reproductive system develop properly, and helps in the transport of Vitamin A from the liver.
Cysteine is found in poultry, oats, wheat germ, egg yolks, garlic and onions, and broccoli. It can protect against toxicity from smoking or pollution.
Glutamic Acid may reduce cravings for sugar and alcohol. It aids gastrointestinal healing and helps neurological and mental disorders. It is found in animal and vegetable proteins. Pregnant women and children should probably not take supplements of glutamic acid.
Glutathione protects against damage from chemicals, smoke and other toxins. It is valuable against cancer, skin problems, and cataracts.
Grape Seed Extract is often sold as a supplement for its antioxidant qualities. While the extract is often made from seeds taken from grapes made into juice, for example, you can actually get the same benefits by enduring the taste and crunching the seeds in grapes you can buy in the produce department of your local grocery.
Green Tea and Green Tea Extract can both provide antioxidant benefits, but green tea extract may be easier to deal with, say, when traveling or on a visit, than trying to brew a cup or pot of green tea. Green tea extract may also provide a more standard and dependable dose than the cup of tea you just brewed.