Probably many weren’t too attracted by chemistry lessons at school, but since what happens in our bodies continuously is pure chemistry, then some base knowledge should be required before reading articles about vitamins, antioxidants and free radicals
While oxygen is a life sustaining chemical in general, it also causes oxidising of cells as a regular biochemical reaction (1-2% of the cells are damaged overall in the process). This oxidising is causing cell damage, which can trigger cancer and other degenerative diseases, but more importantly the damaged cells produce a waste formed of their freed molecules that have unpaired electrons. These molecules are called free radicals and in their search for acquiring a missing electron from any molecule, they are killing or, even worse, damaging some of the cells in our body.
Why is damaging worse than killing? Because when a cell is killed, it it replaced by a brand new cell, while damaging can actually harm the DNA, which can be the starting point of diseases, either short term or long term. Damaging can cause the cell to create more free radicals, so it’s also a chain reaction. It’s nothing we can do to prevent this process, it all starts from how oxygen sustains life and the environment we live in.
Apart from the natural oxidation, which is in general kept under control by the body, there are external toxins in the environment, which can also cause the formation of free radicals. They’re even more numerous and they include cigarette smoke, air pollution, toxins from the food and drinks we ingest, UV rays, and last but not least alcohol. And, while our body is obviously very good at producing its own antioxidants, all these toxins can overwhelm our defense system. This is where external sources of antioxidants come on stage. They hunt free radicals safely providing them with the missing electron and preventing any more damage to the cells. Some important antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C and selenium.
As for vitamins, they are simply antioxidants, but not all antioxidants are vitamins. Others are called polyphenols, and one of the largest class of antioxidants (contains around 5000 of them) is called flavonoids.The main source of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables, of all colours of the rainbow. So do eat lots of these, it is only going to make you good.