Ever wonder what antioxidants really are? They are "anti" -
against - "oxidation" - (according to dictionary.com) 1. the process or
result of oxidizing. / 2. the deposit that forms on the surface of a metal as it
oxidizes. When you put these words together and understand what they mean
combined you come up with this:
Basically, you want to eat things
that will fight the breakdown of your body by outside forces; forces
that will breakdown your minerals and render them unusable. IE: Rust is
the oxidation of iron and so on.
Here is what AIM
International wrote on the subject:
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 strip "Thatch."
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 (FDA).
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?
Enzyme antioxidants are the body?s 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
Superoxide dismutase (SOD) works in the cell mitochondrion?the
cell?s "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 SOD?s natural production tapers off as we age.
Barleygreen by AIM
in our catalog)
It all 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 processes.
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 body?s natural defenses are overrun.
If these excess free radicals attack DNA, which forms the body?s 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 fillings.
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
"The search 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 coenzyme Q10."?
One analogy is worth a lot of jargon
If technical talk on renegade molecules and oxidative stress leaves you cold,
try an analogy:
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 the body.
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 levels.?
Ginkgo biloba, although better known as a "memory herb," is an
antioxidant. Indeed, ginkgo?s antioxidant ability may be the reason it is so
beneficial. In a recent study on ginkgo and Alzheimer?s 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 Alzheimer?s 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 anitoxidants
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 CHD.
If you would like to get the flavonoids found in juices in a
convenient manner, try
Barleygreen, Just Carrots and RediBeets from AIM.
Hertog, M., et al. "Dietary antioxidant flavonoids and risk of
coronary heart disease: the Zutphen elderly study." Lancet 1993;342:1007-12.
Hertog, M., et al. "Content of potentially anticarcinogenic
flavonoids of 28 vegetables and 9 fruits commonly consumed in the Netherlands."
J Agric Food Chem 1992; 40:2379-83.