Anti-oxidants are substances that can donate an electron to protect the body against undesirable oxidation (the loss of an electron). Undesirable oxidation is commonly triggered by free radicals.
Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron and will do anything to get one: think of a mugger stealing an electron without regard to the consequences. Stealing an electron can trigger a cascade of damage where the molecule that has lost an electron becomes a free radical and steals an electron from the molecule next to it. This process continues until an electron is freely donated by a good samaritan (anti-oxidant). The mugger goes away happy and nothing else is harmed.
The process of aging, disease and inflammation involves free radicals. By providing the body with plenty of anti-oxidants the process of aging is stopped or reversed.
Vitamins are anti-oxidants (refer vitamins).
Some minerals (refer minerals) act as anti-oxidants.
There are many other compounds that are anti-oxidants NB. Oxidation is a normal process and without it we would die. It is only uncontrolled oxidation that is a concern.
What does an anti oxidant look like?
Anti-oxidants are usually easily recognised by their bright colours. Bright colours in nature indicate double bonds... and double bonds are reactive. In this case reactive is good... as double bonds can donate electrons. This is why bright coloured fruits, vegetables and other foods are so healthy for you NB. As soon as you start heating substances you start to destroy the delicate anti-oxidants.
Anti-oxidants are usually either:
- Water soluble
- Fat soluble.
Water soluble substances circulate in the blood.
Fat soluble substances can pass through cell membranes (which are fatty) and into the cell.
Oxidation Reduction Potential is a measure of a substances ability to oxidise something.
OIL - Oxidation Is Loss (of an electron)
RIG - Reduction Is Gain (of an electron)
A substance with a positive ORP oxidises things.
A negative ORP means the substance acts as an anti-oxidant and thus helps the body neutralise free radicals.
Most fresh foods have a negative ORP (give away electrons). Foods that are cooked lose most of their ability to give away electrons (which is why fresh food is healthier than heavily processed food) NB. Water alkalisers create water with a negative ORP (it acts as an anti-oxidant).
Water soluble Anti-oxidants
Water soluble anti-oxidants have a very short half life and normally need to be replaced every day. Compare them to fat soluble anti-oxidants are retained for much longer.
Oxygen Reduction Absorption Capacity (ORAC) is the best way we have currently for determining the effectiveness of water soluble anti-oxidants. ORAC is a measure of anti-oxidant effectiveness: It turns out that many of our favourite foods (the tastiest ones) are very high in anti-oxidants.
Stevia is a natural sweetener (around 30x sweeter than sugar) which contains anti-oxidants N.B. Artificial sweeteners contain no anti-oxidants. There are also health concerns about most of the most common artificial sweeteners. No such concerns exist about Stevia and it's available in most supermarkets next to the other sweeteners.
Fat soluble anti-oxidants
Fat soluble anti-oxidants hang around for many days, weeks or months. Compare this to water soluble anti-oxidants like VitC which have a half life of only 30 minutes.
Astaxanthin from algae/krill is one of the strongest fat soluble anti-oxidants we've yet discovered.
N.B. It bears a strong resemblance to Betacarotene (Vitamin A precursor).
Fat and water soluble anti-oxidants
Fat and water soluble anti-oxidants are very rare. Substances that are both fat and water soluble are quite uncommon (lecithin is one). Anti-oxidants with this property are even less common: This means that they can circulate in blood (a liquid) and still penetrate cell membranes (a fat).
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA).
ALA is an anti-oxidant that is both water and fat soluble. This is a highly desirable and unusual property as this means it can cross the blood brain barrier.