WHAT ARE ANTIOXIDANTS? Antioxidants are nutritional substances -- vitamins, minerals, and enzymes -- that can counteract the damaging, but normal, effects of oxidation in animal tissue. They block the oxidation process by neutralizing free radicals: chemically active atoms that grab electrons from the body and damage cells, proteins and DNA. The same process causes oils to go rancid and peeled apples to turn brown. Antioxidants may play a role in preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, consuming mega-doses of antioxidants can be harmful, causing diarrhea, bleeding, and the risk of toxic reactions. It's impossible to avoid all damage by free radicals, but consuming antioxidants can help reduce it. Foods are preferred over supplements. The four most common antioxidants are vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, and selenium. Vitamin E: Look to nuts, olives, avocado, wheat germ, liver, and leafy green vegetables. Vitamin C: Try leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. Beta-carotene: Eat more mangoes, papaya, pumpkin, spinach, kale, squash and apricots. Selenium: Seafood, beef, pork, chicken, brown rice, and whole wheat bread contain it.
WHAT'S SO BAD ABOUT FREE RADICALS? Free radicals are highly reactive atoms with an unpaired electron in their outer shells. They can bind to DNA molecules, and damage or kill cells by binding to their protective membranes. Antioxidants protect the cells by binding with the free radicals and neutralizing them before they can cause any damage. Scientists believe free radicals cause many age-related health problems and may also speed up hardening of the arteries.
This report has also been produced thanks to a generous grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.