Antioxidants - nature's "mop-up"
squad to counter the "free radical" menace.
Antioxidants (or free radical scavengers) are
potentially THE most important part of a basic nutrition program.
Commonly plant extracts, these compounds are incredibly important as
they circulate in the blood, "mopping up" the free radicals which cause
cell damage and disease.
"Free radicals" are
unstable compounds in the body that will "do anything" to become
stable, which they do by stealing an electron from another molecule. In
the process they make the other molecule unstable, and by this method,
they cause tissue damage, which must be repaired to maintain health.
Whilst this process is
used by the body to destroy bacteria and maintain healthy cells, it can
get out of balance if there are not enough antioxidants (substances
that react with free radicals, neutralising them) in the system,
leading to a situation known as "oxidative stress". In this state,
there is more damage being done to cells than the body can cope with
and the end result is disease. Oxidative stress has been linked to
everything from heart disease to cancer.
There are many causes of oxidative stress in the body, from ionising
radiation (x-rays, over exposure to strong sunlight) and toxic
chemicals (commonly found in everyday cleaning products , cosmetics and
some foods) to dietary deficiencies. Dietary causes include both
consumption of the wrong things - refined sugar and flour, foods high
in nitrites (such as bacon and sausages) and virtually all prepared
foods, as well as lack of consumption of natural foods like fruits and
vegetables, which contain natural antioxidants. To make up for the loss
of nutrients in modern diets, some people use drinks like MonaVie
which are high in powerful antioxidants, such as the acai berry.
dietary causes of free radicals
- Refined sugar
- Refined flour and
other grain products (corn, pasta)
- Food additives
- Prepared foods
(high in both sugar and preservatives)
- Mouldy foods
- Foods cured in
nitrites (bacon, sausages, salami etc)
- Foods high in
pesticides (non-organic produce)
vegetable oils, margerine etc
ignored foods that protect against free radical damage or are better
than their "synthetic" counterparts, above.
- Whole, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables
- Natural vegetable
oils (olive oil, flax seed oil)
- Dairy products
- Limited amounts of
raw cane sugar and wholegrain (including wheatgerm) flour.
- Fresh, organic,
grass-fed meats (beef, lamb)
antioxidants to prevent (and recover from disease)
are not all the same. Some last for longer than others in the body,
meaning that they have to be consumed less often, whilst different
antioxidant molecules are more or less effective against specific free
radical molecules. Review
the different types of antioxidants and their effects here.
So how do
you choose an antioxidant?
The simple answer is
"more is better". Most modern antioxidant preparations contain a
vairety of compounds which have different effects and durations. These
preparations are known as "broad spectrum" antioxidants as they give an
array of different protective properties against a variety of radicals.
Unless you are specifically trying to act against one particular
radical, a "broad
spectrum" antioxidant is likely to be the best choice for
you. The more natural form you can take this in, the better and the
more different antioxidants it contains, the better still.
There are also some
modern preparations of antioxidants that provide intensive, high dose
antioxidant therapy for people whose needs are either specific or
immediate. Such products tend to offer a variety of antioxidant
compounds, and some even claim to overcome the traditional limitation
of "1 antioxidant molecule to 1 free radical" by employing "cascading"
systems of antioxidants, which free up the more powerful molecules so
that they can "catch" one free radical after another over a prolonged
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