The complex inner worlds of our bodies would fill volumes of encyclopedia-sized books that would likely, if stacked one upon the other, reach from the Earth to the moon and beyond.

Similar could be said about what antioxidants are and how good and necessary they are for maintaining the health of our bodies. There are many activities involved in the body regarding eliminating free radicals, which is the main job of antioxidants.

Perhaps defining what a free radical is would be a good place to start.

Free radicals are often formed through environmental causes such as tobacco smoke, chemicals, fumes and the like. A lack of antioxidants in our diets causes a free radical build-up, leading to premature aging, wrinkles, cell mutations, damage to the immune system and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others.

Antioxidants bind with free radicals, rendering them useless to wreak havoc on our cells, maintaining our health in a way no other supplement can.

Pycnogenol, an extract from French maritime pine bark, is an antioxidant that shines when it comes to cardiovascular and respiratory health. Pycnogenol reduces platelet clumping – you know, that pesky little situation that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Pycnogenol reduces platelet aggregation just as well as baby aspirin, according to one study on a group of smokers (whose platelet clumping is accelerated).

Pycnogenol has also shown great promise for asthma sufferers, not only in the improvement of symptoms but the reduced need for medication, especially in children.

Another superstar antioxidant is astaxanthin. Hailed as one of the most powerful antioxidants found in nature, it has a molecular structure similar to lutein, and helps reduce risk of nuclear cataracts and maintains eye health.

Grape seed extract, not to be confused with grapefruit seed extract, is a formidable competitor for rank in “most impressive antioxidant.” Grape seeds are rich in oligomeric proantho cyaniding complexes, otherwise known as OPC’s. Their powerful antioxidant activity might help stave off premature aging and certain chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, chronic venous insufficiency, bone strength, edema, cognitive decline, oral health and diabetes and its complications.

Other notable antioxidants include vitamin C, quercetin, CoQ10, lutein, glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, turmeric and vitamin E. Often choosing the most broad range antioxidant is the optimum place to start. Then, if you choose, you can always add specialty antioxidants that target eye or heart health.

Visit your local natural health products store today and consult with knowledgeable and friendly staff to determine the best antioxidant suited to you. And remember, the most powerful hand in maintaining your health is your very own.

Regina Cannella writes about various health issues from her home in Charleston. This article is provided in collaboration with HealthSmart in Bluffton. gina@health