If you are wondering what is an antioxidant then this article will explain it to you.
I’m going to try and explain this in “human terms”, that is, something a person who doesn’t have a background in chemistry should understand.
This is pretty complex stuff, though, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple.
Many of us have heard antioxidants mentioned a gazillion times. Apparently fruit and vegetables are full of them, and they’re claimed to help prevent disease and delay aging.
I am not going to go to try and validate or dismiss any of these claims here (I might do so in a later blog post), but rather talk about what antioxidants actually are, and how they work on the molecular level.
I’d like to mention right away though that I do not recommend supplementing with antioxidants since it might actually cause more harm than good. Getting them through food is great though.
Alright, let’s start at the beginning.
Atoms and molecules
All substance in life, our bodies, our cars and the grass outside is made of atoms and molecules. Atoms are the smallest unit, while molecules are composed of two or more atoms. Some organic molecules like proteins and DNA are composed of millions of molecules.
This is a diagram of some simple molecules:
And this is a diagram of an atom:
As you can see, the atom consists of charged particles. In the core, there are positively charged protons and circling around the core are negatively charged electrons.
There are also uncharged particles known as neutrons in the core.
The chemical reactions in the body
The way humans and all other organisms maintain their structure and function is by metabolic reactions.
In metabolic reactions, some bigger molecules are broken down into smaller molecules, and other smaller molecules organized into bigger molecules.
Some reactions specifically act to extract energy from substances, such as when we metabolize glucose.
Free radicals are created in the cells
A side effect of many of these chemical reactions, is that molecules called free radicals can be created.
These molecules are unstable, and can react with other organic molecules and damage them, and possibly cause a chain reaction of further free radical creation and damage.
This is where antioxidants step in. If a free radical was created by losing an electron, the antioxidant molecule steps in and supplies the free radical with another electron, neutralizing it.
This is how antioxidants can prevent damage to cells at the molecular level.
Antioxidants come in many forms
There are many types of antioxidants and they can be divided into two main categories: water-soluble and lipid-soluble.
Water-soluble antioxidants perform their actions in the cellular fluid, while lipid-soluble ones protect the cell membranes.
Some are obtained through diet, while others are created within the body.
Examples of those that need to be obtained through diet are Vitamin E (lipid soluble) and Vitamin C (water soluble). An example of one that is created within cells is Glutathione, the body’s primary antioxidant.
Antioxidants, as well as the reactions they affect, are extremely complex. They interact with each other too.
I’d like to mention again that I do NOT recommend supplementing with antioxidants, since studies have shown that it isn’t beneficial and may even be downright harmful in some cases.
By now you should know what is an antioxidant. I hope I managed to make this understandable, but if something is unclear then you are welcome to ask a question in the comment section below.