Antioxidants have been used by humans to slow the aging process by protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals
, to enhance immune system function, and to reduce the risk of chronic
degenerative conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular
disease. Free radicals are molecules which are missing an electron. Electrons in an atom or molecule are normally paired and spin in opposite directions to balance each other. They spin at nearly the speed of light. A free radical is created when one electron in a pair is dislodged. The molecule with an unpaired electron (the free radical) now grabs an electron away from another molecule in the cell such as protein or DNA
to restore its stability. This process can ultimately cause damage to a cell.
A description in the American Druggist likens the process to a million mouse traps lined up side by side covering the entire surface of a football field. Each trap is cocked in its ready-to-spring position with a ping-pong ball resting on each springing arm. Picture yourself standing on the sidelines with a single ping-pong ball in your hand. This represents a free radical. When you throw this extra ping-pong ball out onto the field, within seconds, you will have started a chain reaction resulting in hundreds of thousands of ping-pong balls flying around. In fact, one unchecked free radical reaction can create hundreds of thousands of damaging incidents at the cellular level.
Free radicals can be caused by nuclear radiation, x-rays, ultra-violet rays from the sun, and exposure to pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides. Nature supplies antioxidants to protect us from the destructive effects of free radicals by providing us with antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and the trace mineral selenium. Vitamin C particularly binds to nitrates, which play a role in the development of some cancers. Vitamin E is fat soluble and protects the fatty tissues of the body like the cell walls and cell membranes. Beta-carotene is one of the most effective and efficient scavengers of a free radical called 'singlet oxygen.' Selenium is needed by the body to synthesize sufficient amounts of glutathione peroxidase which is an important antioxidant enzyme that protects against free radical damage. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, and selenium are often added to pet foods as antioxidants. Vitamin E may be added in the form of dL-alpha tocopherol, vitamin A as beta carotene or retinyl palmitate, vitamin C as sodium ascorbate, and selenium as sodium selenite.
Using antioxidants helps slow down and prevent free radical damage that speeds up aging. The antioxidant gives one of its electrons to the free radical neutralizing the free radical. The antioxidant is no longer functional once it gives up the electron and more antioxidants are needed to replace it. The antioxidants work together to neutralize free radicals, and it is best to take several antioxidants rather than all one kind. The best food sources of antioxidant nutrients are fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Some of the antioxidants like selenium are toxic at high doses so contact your veterinarian before adding antioxidants to your pet's diet.
Antioxidants are found in foods of rich colors: dark red grapes, ruby red grapefruit, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beets, green beans, peas, and dark orange vegetables like yams, carrots, and dark orange squashes. Choose the darker colors as opposed to the lighter in all varieties available. If foods rich in antioxidants are not available, they may also get them by taking supplements.