You may remember the term oxidation from high school chemistry or have heard about the benefits of antioxidants in vegetables, fruits, and certain vitamins and supplements. Oxidation is the process of removing electrons from an atom or molecule. Oxygen is very effective in stripping electrons from other atoms and molecules and lends its name to the process. The rusting of iron that turns a solid metal into a flaky, corroded material is oxidation in action. Just as you require good stress, you require oxygen to live, but too much oxygen is toxic. When oxygen and other oxidizing agents strip electrons from organic molecules, which are the large molecules upon which living systems exist, they injure those molecules and render them defective or useless. Unstable intermediates called free radicals have an unpaired electron and react with any molecule they meet to achieve stability, stripping electrons from them. Free radicals are constantly produced during normal metabolism. The oxidative stress created by this process adds up. It accumulates along with exposure to other environmental stressors, which include natural and artificial radiation; toxins in air, food, and water; and other sources of oxidation, such as tobacco smoke.
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