Over a delightful dinner of corned beef and cabbage this Saturday night, a dinner guest (with a PhD in science) asked me what was all the hype around antioxidants. So we all know that they are good for us, but why?
Antioxidants help clean up our bodies on a molecular level. According to the National Cancer Institute:
Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radical damage may lead to cancer. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals and may prevent some of the damage free radicals otherwise might cause. Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A, and other substances.
Essentially, free radicals can disrupt cell production and lead to mutation. Antioxidants are molecules that slow or prevent the oxidation of other chemicals by free radicals; antioxidants deactivate the free radicals. Although oxidation is essential for life, the process can create some serious damage or be considered carcinogenic.
The jury is still out on a definitive answer as to whether antioxidants can prevent cancer. Although early studies were all optimistic, more recent studies have not been conclusive. Recent studies suggest that dietary supplements of antioxidants do not seem to increase life span and ingesting these vitamins and minerals from food is the best bet.