How Antioxidants Work
Antioxidants minimize damage to your cells from free radicals.
The Danger of Free Radicals continued...
When a cell's DNA changes, the cell becomes mutated. It grows abnormally and
reproduces abnormally -- and quickly.
Normal cell functions produce a small percentage of free radicals, much like
a car engine that emits fumes. But those free radicals are generally not a big
problem. They are kept under control by antioxidants that the body produces
naturally, Blumberg explains.
External toxins, especially cigarette smoke and air pollution, are "free
radical generators," he says. "Cigarette smoke is a huge source of free
radicals." In fact, our food and water also harbor free radicals in the
form of pesticides and other toxins. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol also
triggers substantial free radical production.
Free radicals trigger a damaging chain reaction, and that's the crux of the
problem. "Free radicals are dangerous because they don't just damage one
molecule," Blumberg explains. "One free radical can set off a whole
chain reaction. When a free radical oxidizes a fatty acid, it changes that
fatty acid into a free radical, which then damages another fatty acid. It's a
very rapid chain reaction."
These external attacks can overwhelm the body's natural free-radical defense
system. In time, and with repeated free radical attacks that the body cannot
stop, that damage can lead to a host of chronic diseases, including cancer,
heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease.
Oxidative damage in skin cells is caused by cumulative sunlight. But if free
radicals are in an internal organ - for example, if asbestos is in your lungs
-- it stimulates free radical reactions in lung tissue. "Cigarette smoke
has active free radical generators," says Blumberg. That's why stopping
smoking is the biggest step anyone can take to preserving their health.