Anti-aging not refers only to life extension, but also to minimizing the damage done to cells by free radicals. This action is successfully performed by antioxidants, which are molecules that prevent other molecules from producing free agents. The latter are able to start chain reactions that harm the cells.
Action of Free Radicals
Free radicals represent a byproduct of energy production and natural metabolism. More precisely, free agents are compounds that lack at least one electron and try to replace it. Because molecules are based on several atoms that share electrons, when one of these electrons is attracted by the free agents, the chemical bond is destroyed and the molecule becomes damaged.
The effects of molecular degradation range from disabled enzymes and hormones to genetic defects and even cancer. Once oxidation starts, it turns into a chain reaction and electrons are stolen progressively from the nearby molecules. This chain reaction only stops when the free radicals are confronted with compounds that are able to lose electrons without having to replace them. Such compounds are better known as antioxidants that occur either naturally in various foods, or in synthesized form, as medication.
Keep in mind that antioxidants will not help you to get rid of the free radicals completely. However, antioxidants will slow down free agents and will considerably minimize their effect. In this process, the antioxidants are oxidized, too, and because of this fact, the body requires reliable sources of antioxidants at all times.
How Antioxidants Work
Antioxidants are able to minimize the damage done by free radicals in two ways. First, they stop the chain reaction through which normal molecules are turned into free radicals. This reaction is called stabilization. The second way refers to the prevention of oxidation, an action that is performed by the following antioxidant enzymes:
- Glutathione peroxidase
These enzymes do not allow the oxidation to start, as they destroy free radicals before making long chains that damage cells and lead to serious health problems, besides aging. Catalase is known to contain iron, glutathione peroxidase uses selenium and dismutase uses copper, manganese and zinc. All these minerals can be successfully used for disrupting the chain reactions caused by the free radicals. The lack of such micronutrients leads to a suboptimal antioxidation, and as a consequence, the body ages more rapidly.
Reliable Sources of Antioxidants
Fruits and vegetables abound in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, but there are many other reliable sources. Some of the most effective foods rich in antioxidants include:
- Red grapes
- Whole grains
If your food does not supply plenty of antioxidants, dietary supplements based on these compounds can be successfully used for achieving optimal antioxidation levels. It is very important to keep a balance between the antioxidants, as some of them may have side effects when taken in large amounts. Vitamin E, which is fat soluble, inhibits lipid peroxidation, but at the end of the reaction it is turned into a tocopheroxyl radical that may do harm. This conversion is reversed by vitamin C, which in turn can be regenerated by glutathione.