Antioxidants are like the superheroes of the immune system, capturing evil free radicals and other toxic bad guys then kicking them out of the body before they can wreak havoc.
Free radicals are generated during metabolism, when glucose is converted to energy. Other toxins such as air pollution, ultraviolet light, cigarette smoke and pesticides can also create free radicals in the body. These free radicals are simply oxygen atoms that are missing an electron, making them highly unstable, reactive and desperate to take an electron from another cell, which then creates new free radicals. This process can damage cells - even alter DNA - and lead to all sorts of ailments including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Preventing this cell damage can counteract some of these ailments and may even slow the effects of aging.
The strongest antioxidant of all is a substance called glutathione (GSH). The body manufactures this enzyme, but supplies can be bolstered by the foods, vitamins and minerals you consume. Vitamins C, E, beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), selenium and lycopene are used to make this important antioxidant and function as antioxidants themselves. Certain herbs such as ginko biloba, green tea and grape seed extract are thought to have antioxidant properties as well.
More and more research is being conducted into the promising role of antioxidants in maintaining optimum health and combating disease.