WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT ANTIOXIDANTS?
“Antioxidants” This has become a common and popular word these days especially with the influx of many foreign food supplements and drugs telling us that they contain “antioxidants”
An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of another molecule. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions produce “free radicals” which are the culprits that we are talking about. These free radicals can start a chain reaction in a cell that can cause damage or death of the cell. Damage or death of the cell leads to many abnormalities in the human body; hence you can see the reason for increased awareness about antioxidants. Antioxidants terminate the chain reaction.
Antioxidants are essential to combat the damaging effects of free radicals.
So what are free radicals, you might ask?
Free radicals are waste products formed in a variety of situations, for example:
• During normal metabolism and production of ATP (Adenosine TryPhosphate), our body's energy currency. This being the case, exercise actually increases the formation of free radicals!
• They are also formed by the body when it is attacked by environmental toxins (e.g. cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, pollutants in the air and water, man-made pharmaceutical drugs and even sunlight).Avoid smoking.
• Another source of free radicals is inflammation.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules which lack at least one electron, making them very unstable. To regain stability these molecules scavenge an electron from other molecules. In this way they themselves become stable once more, but they have simply created new scavengers which go on to create more havoc, especially if they have destabilized and damaged important molecules such as the DNA of the cell.
Antioxidants to the rescue!
Antioxidants are able to interrupt the chain reaction by supplying extra electrons where they are needed without becoming free radicals themselves. So they are critically important to our continued good health.
Where do they come from?
The body is able to manufacture some of its own antioxidants. These include the following:
• Glutathione. This is produced continuously by the body from three amino acids, namely cysteine, glycine and glutamine. It effectively neutralizes free radicals as well as toxins like mercury and other heavy metals. Unfortunately, if the toxic load becomes too great it can overwhelm the glutathione system.
• Several different enzymes are also responsible for dealing with free radicals: superoxide dismutases (SOD's), catalases and peroxidases for example.
Other important antioxidants come from our foods, and this is what interests us here in particular. The list here is fairly long:
• Vitamins C and E are well-known antioxidants. They act best when present together, as the Vitamin C is able to reactivate the vitamin E as it gets used up while getting rid of free radicals.
• Alpha-lipoic acid is also an effective antioxidant. It is commonly found in red meats, vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, potatoes, yams, carrots and beets and yeast
• Phytochemicals are potent antioxidants that come from fruits and vegetables, mostly of the highly coloured types. The two groups are as follows:
1. The carotenoids are fat soluble compounds from bright red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables mainly. Some common sources are carrots, tomatoes, red peppers, spinach, kale, strawberries and papaya. Well known examples of carotenoids are beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin, but there are over 600 members of the family at least.
2. The flavonoids on the other hand, are water soluble antioxidants coming mainly from purple and dark green fruits and vegetables such as berries, black grapes, beets, broccoli, spinach and green tea. Some well known flavonoids include resveratrol and quercetin but again the family is much larger than this - over 6000 members!
The important thing is that we need to make sure that our bodies are equipped with all the necessary nutrients to keep free radicals at bay. It is essential to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Getting a full complement of all the different antioxidant nutrients is far better than high levels of just one or two. And it may indeed be necessary to supplement with carefully chosen products.
Partly culled from Andre' van der Hoven,s article. She has a strong educational background in support of this (M.Sc. in Biochemistry and Ph.D. in Immunology) To explore further please visit her at http://www.nutrition-health-link.com and http://positiveoptions.gnld.net
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