You must have heard the word antioxidant being used in many conversations. For instance, anti-aging beauty product commercials love to throw around this term or you might have read the word from healthy lifestyle infographics. Whatever they are, you must be aware they are important for us and good for our health. So let's try to understand what they are and what they do.
What are antioxidants?
It is no mystery as to what they are, their name pretty much gives away their identity. Antioxidants are a class of molecules that scavenge reactive oxygen species (like radicals) present in the body. These molecules have hydrogen atoms in their structures which combine with free radicals to produce water or other harmless products. The most common antioxidants are vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin E (tocopherols) along with some carotenoids and other compounds.
What are radicals?
Oxygen is present as dioxygen in our environment. The reason this molecule is stable is because there are no unpaired electrons. Now imagine for some reason, one of the electrons either gets lost or one electron is added to this molecule, this creates a different species of molecules known as radicals. Radicals are defined as an atom, a molecule, or an ion that has an unpaired electron. The presence of this unpaired electron makes radicals a harmful agent. They are extremely reactive and rob a molecule to reach the state of paired electrons and stability. The problem arises here, now the molecule that has lost an electron becomes a radical and will further attack neighboring molecules. This chain reaction can harm all biomolecules in the living cell like the fatty acids in the membrane or the protein structure or functional molecules. These radical species are harmful in nature and can cause massive damage to the cell. Radicals can enter our body through surroundings or they can be generated in the body due to metabolic activities.
How do antioxidants fight radicals?
Radicals need an electron and they do not care where it comes from. The antioxidants do exactly this and stop any damage these agents might cause. Antioxidants provide hydrogen to these radicals and usually form water or other harmless derivatives. Antioxidants reduce these radicals and are replenished via electron transport chains. Antioxidants are also called anti-aging agents since they can quench harmful radicals that are present in the environment. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, is integral for the synthesis of collagen fibers. The degeneration of these fibers causes wrinkles.
Food rich in antioxidants
Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C or vitamin E, so our diet plays a crucial role in our needs being met. Oranges, blueberries, kiwis, lemons, and cauliflower are rich in vitamin C. Spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados are good sources of vitamin E.
Antioxidants are required for healthy living and important for healthy cell functioning. Strengthen your body with a good supply of these fighting soldiers.
BOYERA, N., GALEY, I. and BERNARD, B.A. (1998). Effect of vitamin C and its derivatives on collagen synthesis and cross-linking by normal human fibroblasts. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 20(3), pp.151–158. doi:https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-2494.1998.171747.x.