Fall of 2018 has been such a joke. Summall was completely nonexistent, then it practically became cold overnight, and stayed that way. I'm not looking forward to the actual winter season here in Chicago.
It goes without saying that everyone's immune systems are getting their asses kicked and, I for one, am determined to win the battle against airborne viruses, and refuse to become weak from lack of sunlight and movement. I'm being conscientious of my food choices and what my body needs. Which led to the question:
"What exactly is an antioxidant?"
Which then led me to a refresher course in some basic science. And it's pretty cool. If you also want to learn, here is a layman breakdown so you don't need to do a bunch of research.
First, a reminder of some definitions and what is happening in our body right now:
We sustain ourselves by chemical reactions. During chemical reactions, molecules are either broken into smaller molecules, or joined together to form larger molecules. Trillions of chemical reactions happen at the same time, and operate the steering wheel for all the processes that make us living (moving, growing, breathing, reproducing, responding). As a set, these chemical reactions are referred to as METABOLISM.
Ordinary matter is all made up of ATOMS. For this blog, the ordinary matter I'm referring to is US.
Atom = a core (nucleus) that is composed of protons and neutrons clumped together, with orbitals of electrons that revolve around that core.
Protons have a positive charge,
Neutron have no charge, and
Electrons carry a negative charge.
Generally, an atom will have the same amount of protons and electrons, and at least the same number of neutrons.
If two or more atoms link up, they become a MOLECULE. The human body is made up of molecules (DNA, protein, fats), so basically billions of atoms. To be a proper molecule, the electrons should have an even amount in the outermost orbital.
When there is an odd number in the last shell, or when one or more of the electrons do not have a partner-electron, they are unstable, and can be electrically charged. They have opposite spins, and are highly reactive. More specifically, they seek out to pirate an electron from other stable molecules/atoms, such as, oh: DNA, and cause damage to them. These mofos are known as FREE RADICALS. When they combine with stable molecules, they set off a domino effect because the formerly-stable molecule is now a free radical, now looking to obtain an electron. This chain reaction can lead to broken or dead cells, can cause a lipid to get clogged in an artery, or even change DNA code.
If there is a prolonged period of many free radicals, or enough cell damaged has occurred, the body will go into OXIDATIVE STRESS. Studies have proposed that oxidative stress is linked to conditions such as Parkinson's, alcoholism, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. It is suspected to be associated with certain types of cancer, and also the aging process.
ANTIOXIDANTS to the rescue!
The name says what it does: it inhibits oxidation. If a molecule has lost an electron and has become a free radical, an antioxidant molecule can neutralize a free radical by donating an electron. It goes without saying that we need antioxidants to survive. Free radicals are constantly being formed by metabolism, so if we didn't also have antioxidants, our bodies would fail.
The body produces its own antioxidants, but it's necessary to procure external sources. Luckily, we can get them from anywhere, but they are mostly attainable through plant foods. Since other plants and animals have their own defense systems, eating them is like absorbing their power.
Antioxidants can be broken down into two groups: water-soluble, and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble works within the fluid that is in and out of cells.
Fat-soluble acts in the cell membranes.
Vitamins C & E take the lead as important antioxidants, with Vitamin C as water-soluble, and Vitamin E as fat-soluble.
The best bet is to obtain all antioxidants from fresh, "real" foods, rather than supplements. Studies have shown that actual food is much more beneficial than an antioxidant pill or drink, so it is better to eat well and avoid bad habits. (Of course, if one is not able to consume solid food meals, then, by all means, supplements are a necessary way of life.)
As it was mentioned, plant foods, including herbs and nuts, are going to be the prime source. Berries are especially rich, and we can also include green tea, coffee, and dark chocolate as a way to fulfill. Another term to become familiar with, is FLAVONOIDS. They are a group of plant chemicals that are not only antioxidants, but are also anti-inflammatory, and are associated with weight loss and disease prevention. It is easy to go on a tangent here, so I'll stop, but it is worth mentioning because it specifically related to plants, and it is relevant within antioxidants.
Antioxidants can also be obtained through animal sources, as meat and fish do provide some, but it pales in comparison to plants.
Everything is going to come down to balance. Because, you can have too many antioxidants, which will in turn, become pro-oxidants. And not all free radicals are bad; some are used by our bodies to kill bacteria. So, there is no need to start gorging on raspberries and OD'ing on salads. A diet that incorporates veggies at every meal should provide the body with enough additional external antioxidants to create a healthy balance.
And, of course, living a healthier lifestyle, without going to the extreme end of a spectrum, aids in avoiding the over-production of free radicals. Here is a list of factors that promote free radicals:
High Blood Sugar Levels
Pollution in the Air
Consuming a Large Amount of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Radiation, including Tanning
Infections caused by Bacteria, Viruses, or Fungi
Too Much Iron, Magnesium, Copper, or Zinc Intake
Too Much, or Too Little, Oxygen in the Body
Too Many, or Too Little, Antioxidants
Intense and Endured Exercise
REPEAT: Everything is going to come down to balance.
I hope you enjoyed this small, basic course on what the hell is happening, and why it is important to eat well (plants!!!). This was the first time, in a looooonnnngg time, that I have read science journals and articles, so please correct me if I have misunderstood something, and have regurgitated inaccurate information. I am confident that the bottom line of it all is legit: eat well and balance out your life. That seems to be a no-brainer, but it's nice to know WHY, as well as what exactly is happening inside our bodies, at any given second.