Antioxidants provide a layer of protection for the cells and tissues of the body. Specifically, antioxidants protect against free radical damage. People must breathe in oxygen to live. Oxygen is necessary for all essential bodily functions. However, a small amount of oxygen escapes and produces unstable by-products called free radicals. Body processes such as metabolism, as well as environmental factors, can produce free radicals. Free radicals in the body can cause damage to cells.
Strenuous exercise increases the body’s production of free radicals, which, in turn, can cause muscle damage manifested as swollen or painful muscles. While exercise increases the body’s natural defense against free radicals, athletes who engage in intense training may benefit from the addition of an antioxidant supplement to their diets. Antioxidants work in a variety of ways to reduce the effects of free radicals.
Vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, is also known as ascorbic acid. Most of the vitamin C in the diet comes from fruits and vegetables. However, since vitamin C is water-soluble, cooking can destroy the vitamin C in food. Vitamin C is essential for the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. Zinc is an essential nutrient required by humans and animals alike. It plays a variety of biological roles in the body, including catalytic, structural, and regulatory roles. Because vitamin E is found in oils, people who follow a low-fat diet may not get enough. Vitamin E is effective in preventing the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoid family. Found mainly in plants, carotenoids provide the vibrant red, yellow, green, and orange colors of fruits and vegetables, Carrots are a major contributor of beta-carotene. Typically, beta-carotene is a conditionally essential nutrient, but when one’s intake of vitamin A is low, beta-carotene becomes an essential nutrient, in that it must be obtained from food and cannot be manufactured by the body.
Glutathione is the body’s most abundant natural antioxidant. Glutathione helps eliminate toxins from the body and keeps the eyes, central nervous system, and immune system healthy and strong. Glutathione also helps turn carbohydrates into energy.
Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by radicals. Because of their function in cell protection, the benefits of antioxidants are far-reaching and not restricted to a single aspect of our health.
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