Antioxidants Part 1, free radicals and antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances able to fight free radicals, at the basis of aging processes in our body and many age-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, degenerative diseases, cataracts.
Antioxidants are very powerful and beneficial substances linked to a question, why do we get old? To find the answer, we need to go back to 1956, when Dr. Denham Harman, an American biochemist, accused the free radicals of being the cause of aging. Thanks to this statement he also won the Nobel Prize in 1995. But what are the free radicals, and what is the role of antioxidants? Let's see better in detail the topic. The free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron and try to take it from nearby molecules, which in turn become free radicals and so on causing damages to the cellular structure and DNA. Free radicals are a normal condition in our body, in fact they originate when we breathe, take the sun, live in polluted cities but can also be produced because of bad habits such as smoking, too strong physical activity, stress, alcohol, a diet too rich in saturated fats and animal proteins, grilled cooking, the intake of some medicines but also as a consequence of the defenses that the body puts in place to fight bacteria, viruses or inflammations. The body, to fight free radicals, has the antioxidants, which are substances that provide to the free radicals the electrons they are missing. The antioxidants are both endogenous, namely produced by our body but in a limited quantity, or exogenous, that are introduced with the diet. When the body produces too many free radicals we have that condition that is called oxidative stress, the basis of many diseases related to aging such as arteriosclerosis, cataracts, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's illnesses, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension. It is therefore important to counteract oxidative stress and fight the excess of free radicals by introducing antioxidants with the diet. Among the antioxidants we have vitamins, such as A, C and E, phytocomplexes such as flavonoids and carotenoids and some minerals such as selenium, copper, zinc, magnesium and manganese. To understand what are the foods that more than others can help to counteract free radicals, a ranking based on ORAC units has been developed, but we will talk about it in the next post.