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What they are and how they work.

Fruit, a good source of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are everywhere. Supplement companies stick them in their products, fruit drinks proudly list them on their labels and cereal companies promote them across the front of their boxes. For a product that appears to be so common, surprisingly few people know what antioxidants are or how they work.

Let me give you an example.

Cut an apple open, expose the inside to air and it'll quickly turn brown. Oxygen is interacting with the apple, producing a change in the cells. That change is called oxidation. The same thing happens when you have a cut or are experiencing the effects of an illness. Oxidation is a natural process of cells changing. That happens to our bodies 24 hours a day.

During the process of oxidation, your body creates something called FREE RADICALS. Here's how.

Molecule A molecule has electrons that circle it. Those electrons are "balanced." If you notice in picture A, there are two electrons on one side and two that match it on the opposite side. That's normal.

Free Radical In picture B, that molecule has lost an electron through oxidation and becomes unbalanced. It's now a "free radical." Because it cannot remain unbalanced, it tries to steal an electron from neighboring molecules to regain balance.

Unfortunately, free radicals don't just kill a cell to get their missing electron back. Often they simply damage the cell and in the process create another free radical. If enough free radicals are created, they can damage cell components and even DNA. Doctors have linked extensive damage to a compromised immune system, Parkinson's, heart disease and cancer.

To prevent this, it's antioxidants to the rescue! In picture C you'll notice the antioxidant has electrons just like free radicals, but those electrons don't have to be balanced. When a free radical rushes around the body looking for a spare electron, the antioxidant can give one up and then easily "rebalance" itself with what's left. The free radical is neutralized while cells and DNA are protected.

You can see this happening when you take a freshly cut apple and dip it in lemon juice. Instead of turning brown, the vitamin C (an antioxidant) helps to keep the apple white and fresh. There are antioxidants in hundreds of foods, but the better-known ones are beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Here's a short video Daniel Reynen (President of WeBeFit) created that demonstrates the effect.

Free radicals can certainly do a lot of damage, but they're not entirely bad. Our immune system uses them as a weapon against invading bacteria. We just need to keep them in balance, and our body does that with antioxidants.

Here's where modern society hurts. Things like pollution, stress, too much sun, smoking and drinking all create free radicals. So supplement companies started putting antioxidants in everything to help protect us. The message was clear. Smoke, drink and eat all the fattening food you want, we'll take care of it with a pill.

All that marketing started BEFORE supplements were tested to see what they actually did. The public was told antioxidants were good (which is true) and that they can get all they need from supplements (which was untested).

Slowly the medical research started to catch up. The bombshell dropped in 2007 with a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The paper was titled, "Mortality in Randomized Trials of Antioxidant Supplements for Primary and Secondary Prevention."

Medical researchers wanted to see what all those antioxidants were doing to us. They looked at 68 randomized trials with 232,606 participants. What they found was that people who took the antioxidant supplements, beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E; experienced greater mortality than people who took a placebo.

That's right, people who took antioxidant supplements died sooner than people who didn't. It was confusing, because dozens of studies still show eating FOODS high in antioxidants are good for you.

The way you get your antioxidants matters. If it's in fruits and vegetables your body does well. Take them in a pill and they can cause an early death.

If you're concerned about health, eat foods high in antioxidants and dump the supplements. Click Here to find out what those antioxidant-rich foods are!

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Updated 6/12/2011
Updated 10/18/2015