So what influences the prevalence of pro-oxidants in your body?
- External factors such as excessive exposure to sunlight, pollution, stress are catalysts for ROS "reactive oxygen species". (Remember? Those free radicals that the anti-oxidants scavenge?)
- How you fuel your body. Alcohol, sugar, cronuts and junk food or highly processed food like Hot Pockets can increase the amount of oxidative stress to which your body is exposed.
- Turncoat anti-oxidants that flip from anti to pro oxidants in a second.
This is how it works. The electrons in your cells like to exist in pairs i.e. they don't like being alone or uncoupled.
Antioxidants, benevolent like Barney the dinosaur, share or give their electrons to neutralize ROS.
This is what happens when a substance functions as an anti-oxidant. The role of an anti-oxidant is to donate an electron. This is important because an unpaired electron (free radical) can cause damage.
Free radicals are dangerous to have in your body precisely because they are missing an electron. They float around your body looking to steal an electron from something. If it steals it from a healthy cell, there is a chance that the cell will mutate (which can cause a number of bad things, including cancer). In its search for a mate it can also ding up healthy cells like an out of control Go Kart.
So the anti-oxidant comes in and saves the day! End of story? Nope!
Here's why. When an anti-oxidant gives away an electron, another problem occurs. The anti-oxidant itself becomes a radical, because it now has a leftover electron. Take vitamin C for example. When vitamin C (ascorbic acid) acts as an anti-oxidant and gives away an electron, it becomes vitamin C radical (ascorbyl radical). It's no longer helpful to us as an anti-oxidant (or a vitamin) in this form. And now that it's a radical we definitely don't want it! In order to neutralize the ascorbyl radical you need another type of anti-oxidant.
And when that substance goes radical and you need a lipid based anti-oxidant to calm the electrons that helped the vitamin C and then... Do you see a vicious cycle? So what do you do?
First you should understand that anti-oxidants are good friend but they are not the panacea companies make them out to be. Supplementing to excess will not help you and antioxidants in excess may become a dangerous foe!
The key is to get your antioxidants through food because there is a better balance of antioxidants found in vegetables, fruit, grass fed meats and eggs. In food you get a whole team to help keep ROS in check.
And the flip side is true. You do not get the complete anti-oxidant team when you eat processed foods with artificial flavors and coloring. (See #2 above)
Soon, I hope, there will be a proven anti-oxidant that will stave off diseases, and possibly cancer. Or slow down the aging process as effectively as exercise. Until then eat healthy and smart!!