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What are oxidants, and why is everyone so anti them?

Written by Progressive Nutritional

You've probably heard of antioxidants, a health and nutrition buzzword that's turned everyday blueberries into superheroes and made it okay to have the occasional glass of wine with dinner (thank-you, flavonoids!). But every hero needs a villain, so who is the wicked witch to antioxidants' Snow White? That would be oxidants, or free radicals. Though they may sound like your parents going to Woodstock or a kicky 90's alt-rock band, free radicals are way less fun.

What Are Free Radicals?

To get scientific, free radicals are atoms or molecules containing (at least) one unpaired electron. To get less scientific, free radicals are missing electrons and hate the feeling of being out of balance. As a result, they steal what they need from other cells, creating even more damaged, unbalanced free radicals that turn around and steal electrons from other healthy cells. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. If they could cackle evilly, they would.

Where Are Free Radicals?

You're exposed to oxidants in two ways. The first is a bit of a ''the call is coming from inside the house' scenario, as some oxidants are produced in your body as byproducts of daily processes like breaking down certain medicines, burning sugars to get energy, and releasing digestive enzymes. Your body also creates oxidants to help keep viruses at bay, but - like everything body-related from tree pose to probiotics  - balance is key. Which is where the second oxidant source comes into play: they're also floating around in the environment, specifically in air pollution, alcohol, and cigarette smoke, which can contribute to spiking your oxidants.

What Can You Do About Free Radicals?

Blueberries and wine, obviously. Just kidding. Well, sort of kidding: blueberries and wine are both sources of antioxidants which can help protect your cells by voluntarily giving away free electrons. This helps to stabilize free radicals , which might in turn protect you from some of the medical conditions associated with free radicals. Getting a healthy amount of antioxidants helps keep your oxidant/antioxidant balance in check.

Where Can You Get Antioxidants?

Antioxidant compounds come in many forms but the most popular are vitamins c and e, the aforementioned flavonoids, lycopene and selenium. Naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, chocolate, wine, coffee, and teas, a food's antioxidant properties are measured using ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units. There are also antioxidant supplements out there and they are great for filling in gaps when our needs are higher than diet alone can meet. However relying on them runs the risk of lowering your body's ability to produce them on its own. Your best bet for getting enough antioxidants is a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables   - and the occasional treat.


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