What is the connection between antioxidants and free radicals? First, let’s define free radical.
Free radicals are molecules that have lost an electron. These molecules are very unstable and are capable of destroying enzymes, protein molecules, a strand of DNA or entire cells. They can be thought of as invaders that attack the body. They will do anything to restore their balance through stealing an electron from a nearby molecule. This process will cause a chain reaction.
Free radicals have been linked to a number of health problems including premature aging, stroke, heart disease, arthritis and cancer. They originate from either the external environment or our own internal environment.
External sources include; air pollution, smog, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, industrial wastes, herbicides, pesticides, drugs, radiation, chemicals, power lines, microwave ovens, electronic equipment. Other sources are hydrogenated oils (vegetable shortening and margarine) and polyunsaturated oils.
Free radicals are also produced by the body internally as natural byproducts of oxygen metabolism as well as from aging, disease, stress, vigorous exercise, trauma or injury.
What are antioxidants? Simply put antioxidants are elements that will terminate free radicals and stop the chain reaction. Antioxidants are also referred to as scavengers. They stop free radicals by replacing the missing electron.
There are two sources of antioxidants. First, the body has a natural defense mechanism in which it produces specific enzymes that act as antioxidants. These enzymes need minerals and antioxidants to function optimally and are found in foods and certain plants.
The most commonly known sources of antioxidants are Vitamin A, C, E, Beta Carotene, selenium and zinc. However, in recent years scientists have discovered new antioxidants from oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC) that are 20 to 50 times more powerful. They come from grape seed or pine bark and are non-toxic.
Here’s a brief list of the health benefits of OPC:
- Lowers LDL cholesterol levels thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Reduces platelet aggregation thus reducing arteriosclerosis.
- Increases the strength and elasticity of blood vessels.
- Enhances the ability of collagen to repair itself thus improving skin feel and elasticity.
- Relieves problems with varicose veins and PMS.
- Inhibits swelling and inflammation.
- Increases brain function (improves memory and reduces senility).
- Reduces the tendency towards diabetic retinopathy.
With the nutrient in our foods being compromised, the air quality declining, the living of faster and more stressful lifestyles and the exposure to more toxins and chemicals- the need for antioxidants and the protection they offer is more critical than ever before.