Antioxidants are the super heroes that do amazing things like possibly reducing the risk of certain types of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. You know they've reached the status of being wonder foods when you start seeing foods labeled, "Loaded With Antioxidants," or when the manufacturers start adding them to the foods. Yes, antioxidants have certainly achieved star power in the world of nutrition. So, what are these magical little minions?
You are 6 years-old. Without you knowing, your big brother took your little red wagon on a joy ride, scratched it up, and hid it from you. A week or more later, you finally find it behind a clump of trees in the backyard. In tears, you find it has all sorts of brown stuff around the scratches: it had rusted, or oxidized.
I want you to imagine the cells in your body are made of metal (they aren't, of course, but go with me on this...) There are some evil-dude cells that belong to the Free Radical gang. They have red horns on them and carry little hammers in each hand, just floating around and up to no good. They LOVE to attack perfectly healthy, happy good-guy cells with their hammers---sneaking up and pounding on their poor metal shells until the outside is damaged, sometimes so much that the wall breaks all the way through. That cell's brain (DNA) is open to permanent damage. Oxidation takes place around this banged up area and the cell begins to rust (not really, but its fun to imagine.) Once the cells are damaged, a very rapid chain reaction growth occurs, and diseases like cancer can begin. Or, in my words, the brain-injured good-guy cell now thinks he's bad and starts growing little red horns and goes over to the dark side and joins the Free Radical gang and goes on to damage another cell---wreaking havoc in your neighborhood. If you don't watch out, the FR gang can quickly take over and create nasty diseases.
Free radicals can form from environmental pollutants, from by products of our own metabolic processes (what normally occurs inside of us,) infection, radiation, smoking, as well as other things. Some of these risks we can minimize, some are harder to do.
What would have prevented that red wagon from rusting in the first place? Rust-o-leum (rust proof paint!) What will help us fight Free Radical gang's damage to our cells? Spray painting our cells is not an option. But, research has found that all sorts of ANTIOXIDANTS kind of rust-proof our cells. Some antioxidants put a super-hero strength protective shield around the cell so the hammers cannot damage the shell. Other antioxidants have the super power ability to freeze FR gang members in their tracks. These zap-men halt the chain reaction growth of those free radicals in their tracks. Pretty cool, huh?
Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, selenium and so many others. Tomorrow, I will delve deeper into antioxidant rich foods. Stay tuned for Part II!! Until then, eat some extra vegetables, fruits, whole grains and a few extra nuts...
Prevention is worth a pound of cure.