Antioxidants are substances that play a very important function in our body as they help fight the formation and damaging action of free radicals. Free radicals have negative repercussions on our entire body and favor: the aging process of cells, the weakening of the immune system and the onset of diseases and cancers.
Endogenous antioxidants and exogenous antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules or enzymes that are produced by our body (also known as endogenous), or they can be introduced into our body through food. The latter category also takes the name of exogenous antioxidants.
Among the endogenous antioxidants we find enzymes such as superoxide dismutase, catalase and reduced glutathione, and non-enzymatic substances such as vitamins E and C, carotenoids, polyphenols and anthocyanins. Exogenous antioxidants are found in foods; among the best known are polyphenols, vitamins A, C and E.
Antioxidants are divided into:
- Primary or preventive – whose function is to delay or prevent the oxidation process triggered by free radicals;
- Secondary – whose function is to interrupt the oxidation process caused by free radicals, now in process.
What are antioxidants for
The function of antioxidants, as explained above, is to combat the formation and negative action of radicals. Most of the chemical reactions that take place in our body to break down the essential nutrients for growth and the proper functioning of all vital functions release waste products, i.e. molecular entities containing an unpaired electron and, for this reason, they are extremely reactive and unstable.
Not all free radicals are harmful: they perform an important function for our immune system, for example, which uses them to fight infections. Therefore, our body must maintain a balance between free radicals and antioxidants to function properly.
If free radicals took over and were not eliminated by antioxidants, the body would enter a state of oxidative stress which, if maintained for an excessive period of time, could damage cellular structures, such as DNA, and even lead to cell death.