Articles on Health
Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Antioxidants and Free Radicals
Antioxidants, and their archenemy, free radicals, once the domain of health radicals
and panned by many medical professionals, are now discussed in
the same breath as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
Mainstream health magazines address them routinely, and last
December they showed up in the nationally syndicated comic
Much of the talk in the mainstream
revolves around four antioxidants: beta carotene, vitamins C
and E, and the mineral selenium. This quartet does bring you
powerful benefits, and these substances, and their benefits,
are acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
However, as researchers look harder, they are
discovering many more antioxidants. Although these "newer"
antioxidants do get occasional mention in the mainstream
press, they are not nearly as well-known as the acknowledged
quartet. This may be because they have not been known for so
long, or because the FDA has not given them official sanction.
What are these newer antioxidants?
are the bodyís first line of defense against free radicals.
Our bodies produce them to combat free radicals. These "front
line" defenders include superoxide dismutase, glutathione
peroxidase, and methionine reductase.
dismutase (SOD) works in the cell mitochondrion - the cellís
"power plant" - and counters the superoxide free radical. SOD
helps prevent damage that is implicated in tissue degeneration
associated with aging. Unfortunately, studies show that SODís
natural production tapers off as we age.
starts with oxygen. We use oxygen to oxidize (burn) food for
energy. This "burning" process, called oxygenation, results in
free radicals. These free radicals are of minimum concern if
kept at reasonable levels - our bodies produce enzymes to
combat them, and free radicals are helpful in some body
However, cigarette smoke, air pollution,
water pollution, fried foods, and toxins also create free
radicals. When these free radicals are added to the mix, it
can result in overexposure, which leads to "oxidative stress,"
a condition in which the bodyís natural defenses are
If these excess free radicals attack DNA,
which forms the bodyís genetic code, cancer may occur. If they
attack blood vessel cells, it contributes to cardiovascular
disease. Free radicals are also implicated in arthritis,
strokes, and cataracts. Many health practitioners say that
free radical damage is linked to many of the diseases that we
commonly call "degenerative" and health problems that we shrug
off as "getting older."
Antioxidants fight free
radicals. Our bodies contain certain enzymes - such as
superoxide dismutase - that fight free radicals, and we can
also get them from the foods we eat. The best known
antioxidants are beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and the
mineral selenium. Other antioxidants include ginkgo biloba,
coenzyme Q10, tocotrienols, and polyphenols, which are
substances found in most plants.
Health editor James
Scheer, writing in Better Nutrition magazine, notes
that glutathione peroxidase plays a role in protecting the
blood cells, heart, liver, and lungs, and that methionine
reductase, although not as well-known as SOD or glutathione
peroxidase, helps defeat some particularly dangerous free
radicals - those created when you are exposed to radiation.
Scheer comments that methionine reductase also helps
deactivate free radicals created by mercury found in dental
Perhaps the best way to ensure that your body
produces these enzymes is to eat foods that will spark their
production. One of the best ways to do this is to consume
sprouts. Because sprouts - the young shoots of plants - create
many free radicals in their growth, they also create
antioxidant enzymes. Consuming sprouts, or a
sprout supplement, is one way to help your body maintain its
first line of defense.
Coenzyme Q10, although long
known in alternative health for heart health, is getting more
and more attention as an antioxidant. And indeed it should.
Denham Harman, M.D., who is the father of free radical and
antioxidant research, believes that coenzyme Q10 is one of the
most important antioxidants. He states that the aging process
begins in the mitochondrion, the "energy furnace" located in
the cell. Because free radicals are created when we burn food,
the more we eat, the more free radicals are created, and thus,
the more we need antioxidants. He notes that we should
decrease calorie consumption and increase
mitochondrion-stabilizing antioxidants to combat aging. He
believes that coenzyme Q10 is the most important antioxidant
for the mitochondria.
In an interview conducted by
Richard Passwater, Ph.D., Harman states,
for compounds that can slow down the rate of production of
free radicals by mitochondria without depressing ATP formation
is an important and interesting field of research. "Research
in this area should mushroom in the next few years. Hopefully
it will lead to measures that decrease free radical reaction
initiation by the mitochondria without significantly
decreasing ATP production."
"Studies of mitochondrial
diseases indicate that the degeneration of mitochondria can be
slowed in some cases. Apparently, the most effective nutrient
is worth a lot of jargon
If technical talk on
renegade molecules and oxidative stress leaves you cold, try
Think of a fireplace (you) with a
continuously burning fire (oxygenation; energy production). As
the fire burns, it shoots off sparks - free radicals. These
sparks, if minimal, do no harm. However, if we throw more fuel
on the fire (pollution, etc.), the fire roars, and a cascade
of sparks results. These sparks fly out of the fireplace into
the house, resulting in minor and perhaps major damage
(disease). However, if we put an "iron curtain" around the
fireplace, the sparks are extinguished as they fly against it
and it prevents damage. Antioxidants function as the "iron
curtain," extinguishing free radicals and preventing damage to
Tocotrienols are one of the "newest"
antioxidants. According to Randall E. Wilkinson, M.D.,
"tocotrienols exert significantly greater antioxidant
protection than their analogous tocopherols [vitamin E]."
(Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Dec. 1997)
The antioxidant potency of tocotrienols appears to be
especially beneficial in regard to heart disease risk factors,
as they appear to be a powerful way to lower cholesterol
Ginkgo biloba, although better known as a
"memory herb," is an antioxidant. Indeed, ginkgoís antioxidant
ability may be the reason it is so beneficial. In a recent
study on ginkgo and Alzheimerís disease (Journal of the
American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol. 278, No. 16),
the researchers leading the study note that the reason ginkgo
appears to be beneficial in Alzheimerís is due to its
antioxidant power. In the 1993 book, Ginkgo Biloba Extract
(EGb 761) as a Free Radical Scavenger (Ferrandini,
Droy-Lefaix, and Christen, editors) the authors state that
ginkgo extract is an effective antioxidant in the brain,
retina, and cardiovascular system. This means that ginkgo
may help maintain not only a "healthy" brain, but also healthy
eyes and a healthy heart.
Juice and antioxidants
Juice is a source
of antioxidants. In the Zutphen Elderly Study, a
Netherlands-based epidemiological study of risk factors for
chronic diseases in elderly men, researchers investigated the
contents of some major antioxidant food flavonoids, including
those found in plants and their juices. The study found an
inverse relationship between dietary levels of flavonoids and
incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) deaths. The authors
concluded that elderly men with increased levels of flavonoids
in their diets may have a lower risk of death from
If you would like to get the flavonoids found in
juices in a convenient manner, try the AIM Garden
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