We have all seen how an apple, once cut open, will quickly turn from white to brown through the process of oxidation. Unfortunately oxidation is a natural process that happens to all of us! During our normal metabolic processes, ie. the chemical reactions that occur as we breathe and acquire energy, the oxygen molecules in our body lose electrons, becoming what are known as free radicals. These unstable oxygen molecules will look for new electrons to make them complete. In metals, this process of oxidation creates rust, similar to how the flesh of an oxidized apple turns brown.
When free radicals bond to healthy cells in the human body, compounds called reactive oxygen species are created. These compounds can damage and destroy the building blocks of the body: our fatty acids, our proteins, even our DNA. A body overwhelmed by free radicals is considered to be under oxidative stress, a condition that can lead to a wide variety of diseases and also speed up the aging process.
Unfortunately the creation of free radicals in the body isn’t limited to just our metabolic processes. External sources such as radation, air pollution, and industrial chemicals can also promote the creation of free radicals in the body. Luckily our planet offers us many natural substances with antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants improve physical health by providing stable molecules that can donate electrons to dangerous free radicals and keep them from affecting healthy cells. Antioxidants can also help inhibit the activity of any reactive oxygen species already created. These processes immediately help to slow down and even stop cellular damage.
While the body does produce enzymes that scavenge free radicals, the main source of antioxidants comes from our diet. The collective name for any fat-soluble compound with antioxidant properties is Vitamin E.