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How can antioxidants benefit our health?

Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures.

They are sometimes called "free-radical scavengers."

The sources of antioxidants can be natural or artificial. Certain plant-based foods are thought to be rich in antioxidants. Plant-based antioxidants are a kind of phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient.

The body also produces some antioxidants, known as endogenous antioxidants. Antioxidants that come from outside the body are called exogenous.

Free radicals are waste substances produced by cells as the body processes food and reacts to the environment. If the body cannot process and remove free radicals efficiently, oxidative stress can result. This can harm cells and body function. Free radicals are also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Factors that increase the production of free radicals in the body can be internal, such as inflammation, or external, for example, pollution, UV exposure, and cigarette smoke.

Oxidative stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, immune deficiency, emphysema, Parkinson's disease, and other inflammatory or ischemic conditions.

Antioxidants are said to help neutralize free radicals in our bodies, and this is thought to boost overall health.

Benefits

 

Antioxidants can protect against the cell damage that free radicals cause, known as oxidative stress.

Activities and processes that can lead to oxidative stress include:

  • mitochondrial activity
  • excessive exercise
  • tissue trauma, due to inflammation and injury
  • ischemia and reperfusion damage
  • consumption of certain foods, especially refined and processed foods, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and certain dyes and additives
  • smoking
  • environmental pollution
  • radiation
  • exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, including chemotherapy 
  • industrial solvents
  • ozone

Such activities and exposures can result in cell damage.

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