Antioxidants have in recent times become a hugely popular buzzword. Everybody seems to credit antioxidants with curing many different conditions including aging and cancer. |
So what exactly are these antioxidants that everybody’s talking about? How do they help strengthen or heal the human body? The theory behind the working of antioxidants is easy to understand but there is still some controversy regarding their efficacy.
The human body produces energy by metabolizing oxygen. This metabolic process forms free radicals as a natural by-product. Free radicals are individual atoms or sometimes groups of atoms that have unbalanced or unpaired electrons. These free radicals are volatile particles and they rob electrons from other molecules and cells within the body, sometimes causing cell damage that manifests itself as disease and aging.
Having free radicals present in the body is quite normal. It is when there are excessive quantities that significant harm can be done. It is well known that exposure to pollution, excessive sunlight, radiation, smoking and alcohol exaggerates the effects caused by free radicals and could lead to serious illness and/or premature aging.
Damage done by free radicals has serious consequences. Some of the negative effects of free radicals include:
* The aging process is speeded up
* Hardening of arteries (arteriosclerosis) and other cardiovascular diseases. When Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol reacts with free radicals it tends to adhere to the arterial walls. LDL is also known as bad cholesterol and is one of the major causes of Coronary Heart Disease.
* The lenses in the eyes start deteriorating leading to failing eyesight.
* The breakdown in cells that are present in the nervous system results in diseases like Dementia and Parkinson’s.
* Cell DNA undergoes changes that eventually lead to certain cancers.
* Inflammation in the joints causing arthritis.
When free radicals get mopped up by antioxidants, the impact that they have on cells gets neutralized. The foods that we eat contain varying degrees of naturally found antioxidants. Beta-carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and the mineral Selenium are some oxidants that are most commonly known. Besides these, there are numerous other compounds that do the function of antioxidants. Anthocyanins and lycopene are two such compounds, which have been categorized as non-nutrient antioxidants. These non-nutrient antioxidants have little or no value nutritionally but it is their antioxidant properties that make them valuable.
Tests that have been conducted on animals have shown that there is a clear link between the use of antioxidants and a decrease in the onset of diseases. The connection between antioxidants and diseases is not so clear in humans and has not yet been fully established. However certain anecdotal evidence points to the fact that lycopene-rich tomatoes may possible reduce the incidence of prostrate cancer and flavenoid-rich green tea could lower the rate of heart disease.
The results of recently conducted clinical studies have largely been inconclusive and inconsistent. Some of the inconsistencies include:
* Chinese women and men who underwent treatment with a combination of Beta-carotene, Vitamin E and Selenium had a lower incidence of cancers including gastric cancer.
* The incidence of lung cancer was significantly increased in male Finnish smokers who were given Beta-carotene and supplements of Vitamin E appeared to have had no impact.
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