Already in elementary school we were being teached that the smallest particles from which our body is built are atoms. These atoms form molecules that hold together the links between electrons. Sometimes it happens that the electron is pulled off, creating the so-called free radical. Free radicals are the unstable and reactive compounds that seek out another electron to form a stable molecule (the most common agents are oxygen and nitrogen molecules). The effect is such that if there are too many of these substances, there is a so-called oxidative stress (caused for example by smoke, smog, UV and X-ray radiation, stress, increased oxygen consumption during exercise and many other factors). The free radicals attack mostly our genetic material (DNA), generating various mutations, disorders and diseases. On the other hand, the fact is that without free radicals, we could not live either – they serve in killing various bacteria, they are important in energy production etc.
To eliminate the negative effects of free radicals, we need to have enough of so-called antioxidants – a substance that protects our body against process called oxidation. To consider any substance as antioxidant, it must inhibit the destructive action of free radicals by donating electrons to them and thus protecting each body cell against the “stealing” of their electrons. Antioxidants must do this effectively too – a few antioxidant molecules must be able to neutralize many molecules of free radicals.
There are two types of antioxidants:
- the ones that our body produces itself (enzymes, coenzymes, compounds containing sulfur)
- the ones that must be obtained from the diet (vitamins C and E, carotenes and various phytochemicals)
Can we expect help from antioxidants?
The theory of free radicals and antioxidants is currently being accepted by the vast majority of scientists. A wide range of interesting positive effects is being attributed to antioxidant substances – experts say that they can reduce the risk of outbreak of more than 80% of diseases (cancer or heart problems) or slow the aging process.