\nYou may have heard of free radicals and antioxidants, but what exactly are they, and why do they matter? Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to your cells, while antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize free radicals and protect your cells. Here's what you need to know about free radicals and antioxidants and how they affect your health.\nWhat are free radicals?\nFree radicals are unstable molecules that have an unpaired electron in their outer shell. This makes them highly reactive and unstable, as they are constantly seeking to steal an electron from another molecule to become stable. In doing so, they can cause damage to other molecules, including DNA, proteins, and cell membranes.\nFree radicals are a natural byproduct of metabolism and are also generated by external factors such as exposure to pollution, UV radiation, tobacco smoke, and certain chemicals. When free radicals accumulate in your body, they can cause oxidative stress, which can damage your cells and lead to various health issues, including inflammation, aging, and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.\nWhat are antioxidants?\nAntioxidants are compounds that can neutralize free radicals by donating an electron to them, without becoming unstable themselves. This helps protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals and can reduce the risk of oxidative stress and associated health issues.\nAntioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Some common antioxidants include vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, and flavonoids. Your body also produces its own antioxidants, such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase, to help neutralize free radicals.\nHow do antioxidants work?\nAntioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals and preventing them from causing damage to your cells. When a free radical steals an electron from an antioxidant, the antioxidant becomes unstable, but it quickly stabilizes itself by accepting another electron from another molecule. In this way, antioxidants help break the chain reaction of free radical damage and protect your cells from oxidative stress.\nSome antioxidants also work indirectly by stimulating your body's own antioxidant defenses. For example, resveratrol, a compound found in grapes and red wine, can activate a protein called sirtuin, which has antioxidant properties and can help protect your cells from damage.\nWhy are antioxidants important?\nAntioxidants are important because they can help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, reduce the risk of oxidative stress, and associated health issues. Studies have shown that diets rich in antioxidants can help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.\nHowever, it's important to note that not all antioxidants are created equal, and some may be more effective than others in protecting your cells. Additionally, taking high doses of antioxidant supplements may not necessarily provide the same benefits as getting antioxidants from whole foods, and may even be harmful in some cases.\nThe bottom line\nFree radicals and antioxidants play a crucial role in your health, and understanding their effects on your body can help you make informed decisions about your diet and lifestyle. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants, getting regular exercise, and avoiding exposure to environmental toxins can all help reduce the risk of oxidative stress and associated health issues.