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Antioxidants are compounds that counteract free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen particles that damage cell function. By damaging cell function, free radicals contribute to aging and possibly to the development of cancer and other diseases. Although some free radicals arise naturally in the body over time, the body produces free radicals in response to external factors, such as pollution and smoking. Antioxidants work against these free-range oxygen particles to keep them from damaging cells.
Exercise also produces free radicals in the body and antioxidants helps promote speedy recovery from tough workouts and competitions. Tough workouts and competitions deplete the body, which is why athletes may get colds after a marathon, triathlon or other major event.
Antioxidants that are important for overall good health include: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, beta-carotene, lutein, selenium, alpha lipoic acid and green tea extract. Some of these antioxidants have been associated with specific health benefits. For example, vitamin C supports your immune system, beta-carotene is important for developing good vision and selenium has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate, colorectal and lung cancers.
If you are deficient in a specific nutrient or antioxidant, you can find a supplement to meet your needs. Or you can choose a multi-vitamin supplement or a multi-vitamin pack that contains several anti-oxidants.