Monday, June 27, 2011

Antioxidants, What are Antioxidants?

We have heard a million times about the beneficial effects of
antioxidant for health. However, this post will not be about the effect of antioxidants on health but about defining and explaining, in simple terms, what are antioxidants.

But before doing that, let's talk about some basic chemistry. You probably heard about atoms, but in case you have not, let's say that atoms are the basic unit of all matter. Everything physical is made of atoms, whether gas, liquid, solid, animal, vegetable or mineral. Atoms have subatomic charged particles: protons (positively charged) and electrons (negatively charges).


Also, these atoms can be combined to form more complex structures called molecules. These molecules can be as simple as oxygen-oxygen (O2) to as complicated as proteins (which are long chains of amino acids).

Every cell in living organisms is constantly experiencing millions of chemical reactions. These reactions are collectively called metabolism. Some of these reactions break complex molecules (like proteins) into simple ones (aminoacids), and others build-up molecules from atoms. Some require energy others liberate energy.

As a by-product of many of these reactions free radicals are formed. Free radicals are formed when atoms or molecules remain with unpaired electrons in an open structure. Free radicals have a high chemical reactivity and unstability. Free radicals can "spoil" and "damage" other molecules. Free radicals are believed to be involved in
degenerative diseases and cancers.

Antioxidants are able to counteract the chemical reactivity of free radicals by donating one electron to the radical structure and stabilizing it. In the process the antioxidant molecule (or atom) is "sacrificed" since it loses its original structure.

Mechanism of action of an antioxidant

There are many types of antioxidants. Some are soluble in organic solvents (lipid soluble) such as Vitamin E and others are soluble in water (Vitamin C). There are also different mechanisms by which a molecule can act as an antioxidant.

Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants. There are many atoms, molecules or ions (charged atoms) that can act as antioxidants. Vitamins (A, C, E), minerals (selenium, magnesium) and phenolic compounds (quercetin, gallic acid, etc) are just some examples of antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables.

Hope I have made antioxidant understandable. Any questions? Leave it in the comments section and I will try to answer it.

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