What are antioxidants?

It seems like everyone is talking about how important antioxidants are to health.  It’s certainly true that they are important, but I want to talk about why antioxidants are so important.  And to do this we have to back up a little, and talk about chemistry a little bit.

Everything is made up of atoms.  And these atoms are made up of protons, electrons and neutrons.   The electrons orbit around the center of the atom, like planets around the sun (it’s far more complex then that, but it doesn’t matter for this discussion).  For complicated reasons, only two electrons can use the same orbit at a time.  These two electrons are called electron pairs.

Atoms like having two electrons in all orbits.  This is why atoms form molecular bonds.  A molecular bond is when two atoms share an electron, so that they both can have an electron pair.

In fact, if an atom ends up with with only one electron in an orbit, it won’t last very long.  Chemists call it a “free radical”, and it’s very useful for synthetic chemistry because it’s so reactive.  But the reactivity in your body is not good at all.  Free radicals in your dog’s cells can cause a chain reaction, and can damage your dog’s cells.  But Free radicals are created by normal metabolic processes, so your dog’s cells have natural defense mechanisms.  So what are the defense mechanisms? Antioxidants.

I’ve already spoken about one of the most important antioxidants: Vitamin E.  Vitamin C is another important antioxidant as well (I’ll talk about that one next week).  The structure of vitamin E is such that it is one of the few molecules that can hold a free radical stably.  So once a free radical is created Vitamin E will take the electron, and stop the damage.

As I mentioned, free radicals are created by normal biological processes, but they can also be created through pollution, and radiation.  Free radicals have been implicated in cancer as well.  This makes sense because free radicals can damage DNA just as well as any other compound in the cell.

So antioxidants will slow the occurrence of cancer, and help fend off the effects of radiation and pollution. which is why they are so important.  And remember, as I talked about last week, the best sources for vitamins are natural sources.  I’ll talk about some good sources of Vitamin C next week!






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.