We’ve all heard that nutrients called antioxidants are important to our health. What is the importance of antioxidants in our lives?
That’s a very good question albeit not an easy one to answer. If we first look closely at the word antioxidant it seems like a paradox. After all, oxygen is essential to our well-being. Why should we want to oppose it with an antioxidant?
Breathing oxygen connects us to life. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes, irreparable damage occurs, followed by death. So why should the body need an abundance of antioxidants – chemicals that fight the effect of oxygen?
The answer to this question lies in the subtle distinction between oxygenation and oxidation, a truly profound difference that takes us back to the evolutionary roots of the one hundred trillion cells in our bodies. The two-faced nature of oxygen – on the one hand, an essential nutrient that we can’t live without, and on the other, a savage destroyer that must be blocked and opposed – is known as the Oxygen Paradox.
The human body thrives on the presence of oxygen. Our cells burn sugars and fats in the presence of oxygen through an incredibly efficient aerobic (oxygen-utilizing) biochemical process called the Krebs cycle (also known as the citric acid cycle or the tricyclic acid [TCA] cycle). This constructive use of oxygen to generate cellular energy is called oxygenation. As long as oxygen is carefully directed into aerobatic biochemical processes like the Krebs cycle, it’s truly man’s best friend.
The diagram above provides a glimpse into the complexity of the Krebs cycle, which, in turn, is just a small part of the network of chemical reactions that makes up our human metabolism and internal biological terrain.
But oxygen had another face, one we see every day whenever we look at metallic objects that have been left out in the elements to weather and rust. Oxygen is a highly reactive, corrosive chemical. It can turn the strongest iron chain into a weak and crumbling wreck by corroding it, one atom at a time, through a process known as oxidation.
Oxidation is a process in which oxygen (or certain other chemicals) attaches themselves to other substances by stripping away their electrons. In the case of rust, oxygen attaches to iron to form oxide compounds that weaken and corrode the original structure.
Inside the living body, something very similar can take place. Oxygen is capable of stripping an electron from another biochemical – effectively changing it into a positively charged ion because it has given up a negatively charged electron.
Sometimes this positive ion attaches to the oxygen or another negatively charged material. But on other occasions, the positively charged ion – which is now hungry for an electron so it can get back into electrical balance – strips an electron from a neighbouring molecule, balancing itself but creating a new, unbalanced ion.
The newly stripped ion can repeat this process and, like a line of dominoes falling over, each one knocking down the next, a long chain of chemical changes can take place, each one damaging and degrading a previously balanced and functional biochemical substance.
So what happens when oxygen isn’t kept “between the lines”? When it isn’t directed into aerobic cycles like the Krebs cycle? Read an Oxygenation Example.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.