Antioxidants Fight Against Cancer
Antioxidants are often called "the bodyguards of health." They earned this distinction because they protect our cells from destruction by free radicals. Free radicals are highly-charged, oxidized particles that enter our cells, causing damage. This results in a greater risk of developing cancer, cataracts, a suppressed immune system, premature aging, heart disease and stroke. Oxidation is what happens to metal when it rusts. The metal reacts with the oxygen in the air which causes the metal to decompose and deteriorate.
When you slice an apple it turns brown. It reacts with the oxygen in the air causing it to oxidize and decompose. The same type of thing happens in our cells when they become oxidized due to free radicals. Our bodies have a built-in defense system against free radicals, but like anything else, there's a limit to how much they can handle. Excess exposure to free radicals overloads our bodies' natural defense system, and leads to damage and disease.
So, where do free radicals come from? Typically they come from chronic inflammation, ozone, industrial chemicals, excessive ultraviolet light, radiation, cigarette smoke, and air pollution. Antioxidants neutralize or inactivate free radicals, rendering them harmless. We get antioxidants in our diet primarily from fruits and vegetables.
There are thousands of different antioxidants that have been identified by scientists. Interestingly, it's the specific antioxidants in fruits and vegetables that gives them their characteristic colors. For example, the antioxidant beta-carotene gives carrots, cantaloupe, and pumpkin their orange color. Lycopene provides the red that we see in cherries, watermelon, and tomatoes. Anthocyanins are blue-purple, and are found in eggplant, blueberries, and plums.
All antioxidants are generally cancer-protective. However, each one has a specific function and tends to target different parts of the body. Therefore, to get broad protection, you'll want to consume a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Hence, "eat the rainbow" every day! The bottom-line best advice is to get your antioxidants from their original source - that is, real food, rather than supplements.
The antioxidants in food work synergistically with other compounds in food to provide the best protection. So, that apple you sliced? If you want to prevent it from oxidizing or turning brown, you can dip the slices in lemon juice. That works to protect the apple because of something in lemon juice that functions as an antioxidant. That "something" is vitamin C!
Written By Susie Bond, RDN, LDN
Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Center