Antioxidants-- What are they??

You see them in nutritional foods, vitamins and other supplements.  They sound important when the label says "now with Antioxidants!!"  But what are they and what do antioxidants do?

Antioxidants are a group of vitamins, minerals and enzymes; their sole purpose is to eliminate
free-radicals from the body.  When free radicals are active in the body, they may damage cells and depress the immune system, which may lead to some infections and degenerative changes in the body.  Free radicals may form in the body from exposure to toxins, including cigarette smoke, air pollution, and radiation, sun overexposure, or breakdown of fat molecules in the body.

Antioxidants act as free radical neutralizers; they assist the body by aiding in production the enzymes that act as
free radical scavengers, some of which occur naturally in the body.  Although our bodies produce some of these scavengers, and that our diet may include large amounts of antioxidant vitamins (from grains, fresh fruits and vegetables), it is often difficult to acquire enough antioxidants to counteract the amount of free radicals in our environment.  Often, a multivitamin supplement may be needed to supply us with sufficient amounts of antioxidants. 

Some valuable antioxidants:
Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene:  Promotes healthy skin, destroys carcinogens
Vitamin C:  Free radical scavenger; increases immunity.
Vitamin E:  Enhances immunity and oxygen usage, important for heart disease.
Zinc:  Maintenance of vitamin E levels, aids absorption of vitamin A.
Selenium:  Synergist of Vitamin E; essential component of some enzymes.
Melatonin:  Protects cells and cell nucleus from free-radicals.
Grape Seed Extract:  Strengthen and repair connective tissue, moderates histamine in allergic   and inflammatory responses.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid:  Enhances function of Vitamins C and E
Coenzyme Q-10:  Functions similar to Vitamin E; stimulates immune response.
Ginko Biloba:  Enhances circulation.