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Antioxidants - nature's "mop-up" squad to counter the "free radical" menace.

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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.

What causes Oxidative stress?
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.

Common 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)
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils, margerine etc

Commonly 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 (butter, cheese)
  • Limited amounts of raw cane sugar and wholegrain (including wheatgerm) flour.
  • Fresh, organic, grass-fed meats (beef, lamb)

Using antioxidants to prevent (and recover from disease)

Natural Antioxidants & Immune Builders Herbal Antioxidant Supplements with Vitamins.

Antioxidants, however, 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 time frame.

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