Antioxidants destroy free radicals.

Yes, I know, you’ve probably heard this before, and you’ve been making an effort to get more antioxidants into your diet.

What is an antioxidant?

But why? What is an antioxidant, and what on earth are those dangerous free radicals? Isn’t a radical one of those kids with beards and long hair who advocate for change through protesting – like the Occupy people?

So let’s break it down. 

You may already know that we need oxygen for our metabolic processes. This is called “oxidation” – combining a substance with oxygen. However, oxidation can produce little particles of matter that are incomplete, and are looking to complete themselves – sort of like a key looking for its ideal lock.

Free Radicals

These particles – or molecules – are called “free radicals.” As they move around looking to be completed, they bind to  the cells they contact and destroy them. And they don’t just damage one or two cells – it’s a whole cascade of destruction that ages us prematurely. This has been shown to be the instigator in heart disease and cancer – two of our biggest killers.

Enter the valiant antioxidant.

Antioxidants are elements that can remove oxidizing agents, or which may reduce damage from oxidation. We can get them from our food and supplements. Antioxidants include nutrients such as beta-carotene, selenium, vitamins C and E.

Our bodies can handle a certain amount of oxidation, with good nutrition and a healthy environment. However, many of us are not exactly eating the most healthy foods, or living in the best environment.

With our fast-moving, stressed-out modern lifestyles, we are creating more and more free radicals in our bodies. The fast foods we rely on, the refined sugars and fatty foods we eat daily, the chemicals we put onto and into our bodies – shampoos, lotions, smoke, alcohol – all contribute to this oxidation overload. Not to mention the increasingly toxic environment in which we live, breathing atmospheric poisons such as carbon monoxide and sulphur.

There are factors over which we have little, if any, control in our lives. But we can control what we eat and drink. By consuming a diet high in plant-based foods, and by reducing the amount of red meat, refined sugars and grains, we can go a long way towards counteracting the damage from those darned free radicals.

Where do we find antioxidants?

Antioxidants are abundant in some foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, as well as small amounts in meats, poultry and fish.

Excellent food sources of antioxidants include berries, broccoli, garlic, green tea, tomatoes, red grapes, spinach, carrots, whole grains, and turmeric. A number of amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – may also be taken as supplements. These include Glutathione (obtained by taking a supplement called DHEA), Methionine, and Cysteine in the form of N-Acetylcysteine (NAC). Other supplements include Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10), Melatonin, Ginkgo Biloba, Selenium, Vitamins A, E, and C, and zinc.

The best way to supplement is to take a combination of antioxidants, rather than trying to take each one individually. You can find products in the health food stores that combine two or more of these agents.

The bottom line is that antioxidants will probably help you live longer, fight infection, and just generally feel a whole lot better.

Besides, those berries and tomatoes fresh off the vine taste so darned sweet and amazing, it’s great to know they’re also really good for you.

If you enjoyed this content, please help me spread the word about the importance of antioxidants. Also, if you have any good tips for ways to boost antioxidant intake I’d love for you to leave a comment below!


Book: Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Michael Murray & Joseph Pizzorno
Book:  Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 4th Edition, Phyllis Balch