Antioxidants – Our Environmental Protectors

veggiesIn our ever-polluted world it is estimated that there are over 80,000 known chemicals in our environment. These are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the houses we live in. We are literally surrounded in our modern day world with substances that have the potential to do us harm. So how do we protect ourselves? A class of nutrients exist called antioxidants. Anti-oxidants have a remarkable way of helping our bodies to remain healthy. Let’s take a view of what goes on in the body and why we need this protection.

When it comes to the life of each cell in our bodies, one nutrient is responsible for thousands of chemical reactions on the cellular level. This nutrient is oxygen. It is essential for energy production in each and every one of our 60 trillion cells. The utilization of oxygen however comes with a price. When cells utilize oxygen they create a molecule called a free radical in the process. These are produced in one of four ways.

  • When cells burn oxygen free radicals are byproducts.
  • When detoxifying foreign compounds free radicals are created.
  • When the immune system is mobilized to attack and kill invaders the white cells create free radicals to aid in the attack. Once the attack is over many free radicals remain in the system.
  • Outside sources of ultraviolet light, air pollution, pesticides, poor diet, and medications lead to increased free radical production.

So what is a free radical? To put it simply free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms that have at least one or more unpaired electrons. This makes them very unstable so they look to steal electrons from other molecules or cells as a way to stabilize themselves. In the process they cause damage to these surrounding areas and have been linked to many degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases. It is estimated that over 100 disease processes are linked to free radicals.

Antioxidants work by eliminating free radicals. They basically put the brakes on the activity of the free radicals by colliding and neutralizing them. Once an antioxidant has done its’ job it is useless for further activity. It is important to remember that antioxidants work as key elements in the complex cellular reactions, protecting different part of the cells from different species of free radicals. Let’s take a look at some of the more common antioxidants and how they work.

  • Carotenoids – aids healthy skin and mucous membranes protecting us from invading microorganisms and toxins by promoting immune responses. They destroy carcinogens, lower cholesterol levels and guard against heart disease. These include beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, and xanthene. These come from many fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamin C – in conjunction with bioflavanoids (hesperidin, quercetin, etc.) protect against free radical damage specifically to the brain and spinal cord. Aids immune function and is utilized in interferon production.
  • Vitamin E – this prevents the oxidation of fats. It improves oxygen utilization, enhances immune response, aids cardiac output, and works with liver detoxification.
  • Co Q 10 – works similarly to vitamin E. It is crucial for cellular energy and is a significant immune stimulant, increases circulation, shown to have anti aging properties and is beneficial for the cardiovascular system.
  • Zinc – known for it own antioxidant activity also works with others like vitamin E, and beta carotene as well as production of another antioxidant called superoxide dismutase, an enzyme. It helps promote glandular and reproductive health and aids the immune system.
  • Selenium – helps produce a very potent liver enzyme called glutathione. This helps the heart and lungs as well as aiding the immune activity when infection is present. It also has shown tumor inhibiting properties.

The previous nutrients are mostly vitamin and minerals. It is interesting to know that if we eat a diet rich in fiber, fresh organic fruits and vegetables that we are getting these compounds on a daily basis. They work as a family together even though they can be taken as single nutrients. Let’s look at some of the botanicals that have antioxidant activity.

  • Bilberry- helps to keep the capillaries and red blood cells strong and flexible. Supports collagen structures and inhibits the growth of bacteria, is an anti-inflammatory and has anti- carcinogenic effects.
  • Gingko biloba – enhances circulation by opening the vascular system. It has a blood pressure lowering effect and has been shown to prevent clotting. It contains a good amount of quercetin.
  • Garlic – the sulfur bearing amino acids of cysteine help the liver to produce glutathione. Which is powerful detoxifier of alcohol, tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants.
  • Green tea – contains a compound called catechins. They help protect against cancer, lower cholesterol levels, and reduce clotting factors. It helps regulate blood sugar.
  • Opc’s (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) – are unique flavanols that may be 50 % more active than vitamin E in antioxidant properties. They strengthen and repair connective tissue, moderate allergic and inflammatory responses. They are found in grape seed extract and pine bark extract (pycnogenol)
  • Alpha lipoic acid – is essential for cellular energy production, it functions in both a lipid or water medium. Has been helpful in diabetes, and cardiovascular ailments.

As you can see there is a huge array of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals in our food. The synergism of these nutrients working together helps to keep us healthy. It is important that we make assessments in our lifestyle so that we can reduce the toxic load placed upon our bodies daily. It is sad that only 10 percent of the U.S. population is eating the recommended quantities and varieties of food to offer protection. Try to pay attention to your daily lifestyle habits and determine what needs to go and what needs to be enhanced. You only have one life to live. Let’s live it healthy.

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