While medical science has advanced incredibly throughout the past century, each individual is still primarily responsible for their health and well-being. How much and what type of exercise impacts or muscle and fat ratios. The amount of sleep that we get affects our mental and physical health. Our diets fuel our daily activities.
At present, the average diet of a citizen of a Western nation is often heavily influenced by a lack of activity, not enough sleep, and loads of stress in a technology-driven environment. This is despite our deepened understanding of holistic wellness and an alarming obesity epidemic that contributes to a wide range of other health problems, especially heart disease and type II diabetes.
Our dependency on processed [but convenient] foods is argued as a main contributor to many of these problems. This is because people are not consuming enough “real”, i.e. whole foods, especially not enough fruits and vegetables. When diets are not rich in fruits and vegetables, our bodies miss out on a range of benefits, particularly a lack of fiber and many essential vitamins and nutrients.
A very important type of nutrients that our bodies miss out on when we don’t eat fruits and vegetables are antioxidants. We need antioxidants because they protect our cells from free radicals.
Free radicals are the byproducts of the body metabolizing oxygen and they are damaging to living tissue and cells. However, not all oxidation is harmful to the body. There are two types of oxidation in the body as oxidation is a natural part of life that occurs when electrons in the body are transferred from one atom to another. Oxygen is the fundamental electron acceptor within the electron flow system that produces energy in the form of ATP.
In the first type of oxidation, the electrons are transferred in pairs. This is the type of oxidation that does not produce free radicals. The second type of oxidation occurs when uncoupled, i.e. unpaired and single, electrons are transferred thereby creating free radicals.
Since these electrons are free [as indicated by the name], they can wreak havoc on the body’s systems. This is because molecules within the body [and in general], only function when they have an appropriate number of electrons.
Free radicals, which are individual electrons, can float through the body and shock cells and tissues with their charge. These shocks can disrupt other molecules and inhibit their functionality or even destroy them. Free radicals can also form chains within the body which amplifies their negative effect. When tissues and cells are damaged by free radicals, they are in a state known as oxidative stress.
This is where antioxidants come to the rescue.
When free radicals form, they are essentially searching for another electron. Antioxidants provide free electrons to the free radicals which neutralizes them and stops them from hurting the body.
Some damage from free radicals normal as free radicals are a natural byproduct of the body’s metabolic processes. For example, free radicals can help to fight off infections. However, without antioxidants to balance the effects of free radicals, the body will be severely damaged, with cancer and cardiovascular disease being two common outcomes of diets deficient in antioxidants.
Thus, medical science may be able to treat our cancers and operate on our hearts, but in the end many of our health outcomes lie in the decisions that we make on a daily basis. This includes opting to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables because they provide our body with the tools it needs to help us function in this hectic and crazy but still somehow quite lovely life.
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- Mittler, R. (2002). Oxidative stress, antioxidants and stress tolerance. Trends in plant science, 7(9), 405-410.
- Pietta, P. G. (2000). Flavonoids as antioxidants. Journal of natural products, 63(7), 1035-1042.
- Valko, M., Leibfritz, D., Moncol, J., Cronin, M. T., Mazur, M., & Telser, J. (2007). Free radicals and antioxidants in normal physiological functions and human disease. The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology, 39(1), 44-84.