A look back on Human Biology/Physiology:
Our bodies are made up of millions of different cells. Cells consist of different types of molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined in chemical bonds. As you probably remember from high school, atoms consist of a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. The number of protons (positively charged particles) in the atom's nucleus determines the number of electrons (negatively charged particles) surrounding the atom. Electrons are involved in chemical reactions and are the substance that bonds atoms together to form molecules. Electrons surround, or "orbit" an atom in one or more shells. The innermost shell is full when it has two electrons. When the first shell is full, electrons begin to fill the second shell. When the second shell has eight electrons, it is full, and so on.
When trying to determine an atom's chemical behavior, the most important structural feature is the number of electrons in its outer shell. A substance that has a full outer shell tends not to enter in chemical reactions (an inert substance). Because atoms seek to reach a state of maximum stability, an atom will try to fill it's outer shell by:
- Gaining or losing electrons to either fill or empty its outer shell
- Sharing its electrons by bonding together with other atoms in order to complete its outer shell
- Atoms often complete their outer shells by sharing electrons with other atoms. By sharing electrons, the atoms are bound together and satisfy the conditions of maximum stability for the molecule.
Normally when molecules split (separating the atoms) they don't leave one atom with an incomplete shell - with an odd number of electrons. But, weak bonded molecules can break apart leaving atoms with extremely unstable outer shells - they NEED to bond with another atom to try to reach stability. These unstable atoms are called Free Radicals, and they are voracious. These free radicals, upon the breaking of it's weak bond, turn immediately to the next healthy cell and latch on, trying to steal the necessary electrons - which then turns that cell into a free radical, and so on.
Are All Free Radicals Bad?
No. Sometimes free radicals are formed during the normal digestive process. Sometimes, they can be purposefully created by our bodies immune system to attack a virus. Normally the body has no problem - when the healthy cells are healthy enough, strong enough to prevent the radical from stealing their electrons then the free radical cell will eventually die.
Furthermore, free radicals can be created through the oxidation process - converting the air we breath into the chemical in our blood our body can use. The problem lies in the fact that the air isn't pure Oxygen, there are other chemicals, including second hand smoke, that have to be filtered out. The chemicals produce plenty of free radicals as our body strives to get rid of them.
How Free Radicals Are Bad For The Body:
Once the free radicals begin stealing electrons, creating a chain of events, it can cascade growing in strength until cells we need to function are being attacked. Furthermore, even normal or healthy free radical damage increases with age. Since the bad free radicals can harm healthy cells, it can lead to heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, cancer, etc.
How Do We Prevent Free Radical Damage To Healthy Cells:
You guessed it, Antioxidants. When we eat a diet high in antioxidants, then our healthy cells form a shell or protective barrier that keeps the free radical from damaging the cell. This shell can even protect a cell giving it time to heal or strengthen into a true healthy cell - thus preventing disease. But, the most amazing thing studies have shown us in the last decade, is that antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-"stealing" reaction. The antioxidant nutrients themselves don't become free radicals by donating an electron because they are stable in either form. They act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease!!
Not to mention the fact that the foods high in antioxidants are also high in such healthy vitamins as C & E and you're talking about an army of healthy cells fighting off disease and infection.
What Foods Are Commonly Referred To As Antioxidants:
- Vitamin A & Cartenoids - Carrots, squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collards, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots (bright-colored fruits and vegetables!)
- Vitamin C - Citrus fruits like oranges and lime etc, green peppers, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, strawberries and tomatoes
- Vitamin E - nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, vegetable oil and liver oil
- Selenium - Fish & shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic
Other Foods Rich In That Act as Antioxidants:
- Flavonoids/Polyphenols - soy, red wine, purple/Concord grapes, pomegranate, cranberries, tea
- Lycopene - tomato & tomato products, pink grapefruit, watermelon
- Lutein - dark green veggies (kale, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts)
- Lignan - flax seed, oatmeal, barley, rye
- Coenzyme Q10
Well, now you can understand why smoking and being around smoke is so unhealthy. Furthermore, you can see how eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies is imperative to developing the antioxidant warrior cells out bodies need to keep us healthy. Look for a diet high in bright colors - the bright yellow in corn, the bright orange in cantaloupe, the bright red in tomatoes, the bright green in spinach...etc..