Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Certain vitamins and minerals, along with numerous phytochemicals, are often given another fancy name - antioxidant - based in their ability to prevent certain types of harmful oxidation (such as peroxidation) in the body. Excessive peroxidation results in premature aging as well as an overall weakening of the body, leading to disease. Antioxidants are receiving a lot of attention for their cancer-fighting ability, but equally because our youth-obsessed culture wants to keep looking good.
At present, the big three antioxidants are vitamins A, C, and E, but hundreds of lesser-known phytochemical substances also have strong antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are needed to balance out the wild activity of free radicals" - not some holdover from the 1960s, but a molecule containing an oxygen atom with an unpaired electron inside it. As it tries to find a mate for its lonely electron, that particular oxygen molecule will often behave in a violent fashion, bashing around among other molecules looking for Mr. (or Ms.) Right. (This drive for relationship can make people and electrons act in strange and unpredictable ways.) Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which is why they are known affectionately as "free radical scavengers."
In an ideal world, you wouldn't need to be concerned about free radicals getting out of control. Your body would handle them naturally, and you would age "normally." But today we are literally bombarded with arsenals of free radicals generated by air pollution, cigarette smoke, ultraviolet light from the sun through the damaged ozone layer, and pesticides and other contaminants in our food. Other sneak attacks of free radicals occur if we eat foods fried in fats and junk foods of all types.
We can supplement our diet with antioxidant substances (vitamins A, C, and E) or increase our consumption of fresh foods that are particularly high in antioxidant phytochemicals, especially fresh fruits and vegetables - or do both.