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Antioxidants are nutrients that protect the body from harmful substances, the so-called free radicals. Free radicals are aggressive substances that, in unfavourable circumstances, cause damage to cells and tissues. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and thus may, in the long run, prevent diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Antioxidant is a collective name for vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, the body’s own glutathione, the minerals manganese, selenium and zinc and bio-active substances, such as flavonoids in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are naturally found in all kinds of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, red wine, tea and chocolate. But nowadays, antioxidants are added to numerous products, because of their alleged health effects. There are also pills and preparations with high dosages of antioxidants.
Antioxidants prevent damage in body cells, caused by oxidation. Oxidation is a natural process, in which free radicals damage body cells. This damage is caused by oxygen. It’s a chemical reaction, similar to the rusting of metal or the browning of peeled fruits. These free radicals can also disrupt cell division, causing cancer. Antioxidants react with free radicals in such a way, that these become harmless.
A shortage of antioxidants causes so-called oxidative stress. This disturbance in the balance between antioxidants and free radicals can ensure that body cells don’t recover properly and the body can no longer resist free radicals.
A surplus of antioxidants has the opposite effect and could potentially play a role in causing cancer instead of preventing and combating cancer. It would also be harder for older people to breathe, so they don’t get the necessary exercise they need in order to stay healthy.
- Antioxidants are not the panacea for good health, as was thought around the turn of the century. Taking more antioxidants via supplements provides no additional health benefits and may even leave a risk.
- People who eat healthy and varied with plenty of fruits and vegetables, get enough antioxidants.
- The term ‘antioxidant’ is derived from the Greek words anti (against) and oxy- (oxygenous).