MANILA, FEBRUARY 21, 2008 (STAR) Recent news about coffee containing a healthy amount of antioxidants has renewed interest in both coffee and antioxidants.

Antioxidants have been found to play a role in preventing certain diseases. So what are antioxidants and how does drinking coffee boost one’s antioxidant levels?

First, the term antioxidants refer to a class of substances that include polyphenols, vitamins A, C, and E. So antioxidants are not really new; we already get them from various plant food sources like fruits, vegetables, beans and grain products. Being a plant-derived product itself makes coffee a rich source of antioxidants, which are also naturally present in our body.

Studies have confirmed that coffee contains more antioxidants than either tea or red wine. They also confirm that drinking decaffeinated provides the same amount of antioxidants as drinking caffeinated coffee.

Many processes inside our bodies involve oxygen, which releases natural by-products called free radicals (or oxidants).

The bad news is, these free radicals tend to destroy nearby healthy cells, which in turn become free radicals themselves.

What antioxidants do is protect the healthy cells from damage caused by oxidants or free radicals, hence the term. They neutralize these free radicals to prevent them from doing further harm.

Free radicals are not entirely bad. The key is to maintain balance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity to keep the body in good condition.

One good example of an antioxidant function is cutting open a fruit, say an apple. When left uneaten in the open, the edible parts turn brown — a visible effect of oxidation and free radicals.

But when we dip it in an antioxidant-rich environment like orange juice (vitamin C), the discoloration is prevented and the fruit looks and stays as fresh as when you opened it. Because of this kind of effect, antioxidants have also been touted to control the visible effects of aging in the body, and prolong one’s life.

Consumption of antioxidants is thought to provide protection against oxidative damage and contribute positive health benefits. Our bodies have natural defenses against oxidants, but sometimes they aren’t enough especially as we age.

Plus, free radicals are also caused by exposure to pollution, pesticides, radiation, and tobacco smoke. So our body’s oxidant defenses need to be constantly replenished.

Coffee is a popular source of antioxidants because many people in the population are habitual coffee drinkers. Many people even consume higher amounts of coffee than they do of fruits and vegetables, so coffee becomes a kind of “alternative” antioxidant source for them.

There are antioxidant supplements available in the market, but their effectiveness has yet to be scientifically proven. Also, there’s the risk of overdose from antioxidants, which can be toxic. Your best bet is to obtain antioxidants through a variety of natural food sources.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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