Stock up on beans and broccoli, fight cancer

Last Updated 21 January 2011, 11:32 IST

Just like a piece of iron exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere can rust and crumple, oxidation inside the body can cause cellular damage.

Free radicals produced by this breakdown attack healthy cells. This  initiates a chain of events that weakens immunity and accelerates the process of ageing. It can also cause cardiovascular disease or cancer.

‘Oxidative stress’ is the term used to describe the output of excessive free radical reaction. It is the same process as an apple rotting or a metal rusting. Antioxidants are capable of preventing this type of oxidative stress and many health problems associated with ageing.

Free radicals are unstable molecules. They are always in search of an extra electron which they can steal to become stable. This is a normal process, where they are produced as a byproduct of normal metabolic functions like circulation or digestion. In addition to this, overexposure to sunlight, poor lifestyle habits, smoking, stress and environmental toxins also produce free radicals. Over time, if these oxidants are left “as is” to navigate and multiply, they may cause severe and permanent damage to cell walls and structures leading to premature ageing, fatigue and degenerative diseases like cancer.

Antioxidants are tiny molecules that protect cells from damage done by free radicals.
When you cut an apple and leave it on the counter, it turns brown (because of oxidation), but if you dip the apple slice in lemon juice (which contains Vitamin C, an antioxidant), the apple slice will stay fresh. Antioxidants do the same thing inside the human body. They protect the cells from the attacks of nasty free radicals.

The antioxidant network constantly checks the health of each of the billions of cells in the body. Once a free radical is captured, the antioxidant attaches itself and weakens it. Another antioxidant comes along and helps to regenerate and repair the damaged cell.
Antioxidants protect the body by mopping up free radicals before they are able to cause severe damage. They also help repair damage already sustained by cells. Antioxidants are miraculously powerful.

Antioxidants are intimately involved in:

- Prevention of cellular damage —  the common pathway for cancer, ageing, and a variety of diseases.
- Preventing strokes, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and life-threatening infections.
- Slowing down the ageing process.
- Enhancing and strengthening the immune system. Usually, before the age of 30, one’s regular diet is enough to meet the desired requirements of the body, but as the age progresses the pace of free radical formation exceeds the rate of repair and regeneration by antioxidants.

Foods rich in antioxidants are beans, broccoli, tomatoes, garlic, spinach, carrots, wholegrains, walnuts, kidney beans (rajma), and spices like cinnamon and clove.

(Published 21 January 2011, 11:32 IST)

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