Every day, your body fights off infections and diseases tirelessly. Incorporating antioxidants into our diets can support our body’s protective defenses. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent specific types of cell damage. In particular, they provide protection against damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals encompass a class of molecules that are considered harmful to the body because they disrupt the chemistry of the internal environment. They pull electrons away from other molecules which can change protein structure and function as well as affect the structure and function of many different types of molecules in the cell, including DNA. Specifically, proteins are built from amino acid building blocks and are formed according to the instructions in the genetic code. Free radicals damage the DNA, thus causing mutations in the production of amino acids and proteins. When free radicals are in excess and the body is not able to protect itself from cell damage, the body undergoes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress often spurs the onset of preliminary types of cancer, heart disease, as well as other illnesses like Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
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So, how do antioxidants prevent damage by free radicals? They can bind to free radicals themselves and prevent the free radicals from stealing electrons from other molecules that need them. Antioxidants can be found in a variety of different foods like apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and mangoes. Some examples of antioxidants include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Beta-carotene, and lycopene.
But as the saying goes, too much of anything is never a good thing. Excess concentrations of antioxidants, far from preventing disease, can actually cause illnesses like heart disease and cancer. This can seem counterintuitive since antioxidants function by preventing cell damage. However, scientists hypothesize that this protection factor is also extended to malignant cancer cells so that they, too, are unaffected by cell damage caused by free radicals, conferring a longer, more stable lifespan for the cancer cells.
Therefore, take care to balance your antioxidant intake. Daily intake guidelines have not yet been established for antioxidants. However, individuals should follow guidelines on the intake of fruits and vegetables to ensure a healthy, balanced diet with some of the protective properties of natural antioxidants.
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