Antioxidants and Their Effects on our Health
You have probably heard about Antioxidants. You can find them in the health section of your local supermarket and they are frequently advertised in the media. Most of the Antioxidant supplements that are available in your local supermarket or health food store contain a mixture of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and usually also some minerals such as zinc and/or selenium; some may also include herbs such as ginkgo grape seed, and milk thistle.
These substances have all been scientifically documented to have significant antioxidant actions. However, for the reasons discussed below, these products generally fall far short of supplying what the body really needs in order to be truly effective.
In order to understand what Antioxidants can do for us we need to understand what ‘free radicals’ are, how they are produced in the body, and what sort of damage they can cause.
Put simply, free radicals are a group of chemical substances that are produced in quite small quantities in the body all of the time. Certain circumstances such as exposure to environmental pollutants, ‘bad’ dietary fats, physical over exertion, emotional stress, and cigarette smoke cause an increase in free radicals.
There are many different types of free radicals. However the one thing that they all have in common is an unstable oxygen atom, which, much like a strong acid, causes them to literally ‘eat a hole’ in the delicate structures of the body’s basic unit of life: the cell.
If it were not for the natural antioxidant defense systems that are produced by the body, we would all keel over and die after taking our first few breaths! However, our own natural defenses, plus the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, have kept humanity alive and well over the long course of our development.
Since the late 1950’s, scientists have come to recognize the fact that the damage caused by free radicals is the leading cause behind the increased prevalence of such degenerative diseases as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and diabetes.
The alarming fact that has only recently come to light is that the damage leading up to these diseases BEGINS IN CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, over a century ago, our bodies have been subject to an ever increasing number of stresses that have dramatically increased the levels of free radicals that are formed in our bodies. The introduction of thousands of man-made chemicals into the environment, many of which end up in our food and water and air; the processing of foods; and the increasing levels of stress—to name a few.
At the same time, modern agricultural and food storage practices have resulted in reduced levels of essential vitamins and minerals in our foods. Therefore we are less able to prevent and repair the damage to cells that is caused by free radicals.
Facts to consider
Before you race down to the health section of your local supermarket to buy the latest antioxidant supplement, there are a few things that you will need to look out for:
The requirements of adults and children are very different, so be sure that the formulation is specific for the age of the person.
Because free radicals come in many different varieties, you will need an antioxidant mixture with as wide a variety as possible of different antioxidant ingredients. There is a danger in using one antioxidant alone, or even a formula with 2, 3 or 4 different ones: they can actually cause an increase in free radical activity.
The formula should also contain a balanced mixture of essential vitamins and minerals to support the action of the specific antioxidants.
We now know that the increased incidence of degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis and diabetes, is due to the cumulative damage caused by free radicals, and that this damage begins in childhood and adolescence.
In order to gain adequate protection from free radicals in our increasingly polluted environment we need to take daily supplements that include:
A wide variety of specific antioxidants to deal with the various different types of free radicals.
The necessary vitamins, minerals and other co-factors to support the action of the antioxidant supplements.
A complete and balanced mixture of essential vitamins and minerals to promote optimal body function and repair.
You should bear in mind that a mixture of many different antioxidants should be taken because the neutralisation of free radicals involves several steps.
At each step the antioxidant is converted into a free radical which is then neutralised by another antioxidant, and so on until the end step which produces harmless carbon dioxide and water. Unless there are enough different antioxidants to fill all of the steps, you may end up with more free radicals being produced. So simply increasing the intake of one or two antioxidants may lead to more harm than good. You need to take a balanced mixture of them.
The important antioxidants include:
Vitamin & mineral antioxidants: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A (or Beta Carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in the body), Zinc, Iron, Selenium, Copper, Manganese.
Substances that are both produced by the body as well as obtained from food: Coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid.
Flavonoids: Citrus (bioflavinoids), grape seed (procyanidins), green tea (catechins), ginkgo leaf, tomato (lycopene), lutein, bilberry (anthocyanins), milk thistle (sylimarin), soy (isoflavones).
(Article written by Tony Reid. DTCM, DAc, CCP, MAACMA)
Tips: Childrens food supplements are available and are recommended by may diatitians and natropaths.
Remember: Our food is depleated of many nutriants due to intence farming methods and poor soil quality.
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