While the body’s internal battle between antioxidants and free radicals certainly gets less press coverage than the Kanye vs 50 Cent feud, the war is vital for healthy living (although admittedly, it’s not yet clear how it influences the sale of Cristal!)
In the red corner are free radicals, or molecules with unpaired electrons. Like Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire, this little lady is an unstable molecule just looking for someone special—or, in this case, another electron—to complete her. So rather than signing up for an online dating service like all the other lonely 30-somethings, this molecule barges in on other molecules, altering their chemical structure and causing damage to otherwise healthy cells. These free radicals, which in our bodies most frequently appear in the form of oxygen, are a natural by-product of various cell activities, but can also be created through exposure to tobacco smoke, chemicals, UV radiation and other environmental factors.
In the blue corner, meanwhile, are antioxidants—or the good guys if you will. Defined as any substance that blocks free radicals (and their resulting damage to cells and tissues), these little fellas are thought to reduce the risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Some studies have also suggested that antioxidants may improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy as well as mitigate some of the therapies’ negative side effects. In addition, antioxidants can also serve as a bit of a fountain of youth, helping delay the signs of aging, both in terms of age-related organ wear-and-tear and the development of wrinkles, decreases in skin elasticity and all the other “benefits” the good folks over at AARP conveniently forgets to tip you off on.
Popular antioxidants include protein enzymes as well as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) and lycopene. Antioxidants are most frequently found in bright colored fruits and vegetables including carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mango and—in case you have an aversion to orange foods—broccoli, spinach, corn, tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon. In addition, you can find antioxidants in nuts, grains, and certain varieties of beef, poultry and fish, and foods with high flavonoid contents—a particularly potent form of antioxidant—including red wine (yay!) and dark chocolate (double yay!).
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