Imagine a group of little men in blue striped shirts. Every last one of them are greedy little monsters. They walk out of their houses, every day, forgetting their wallets. Every last one of them.
Does it stop them? Not an ounce. They forgot their money, so they’re going to take yours instead. One electron at a time. Without asking.
WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT? FREE RADICALS.
(Paraphrased from Stanford.edu) Free Radicals are atoms or molecules that are highly reactive with other cellular structures because they contain UNPAIRED ELECTRONS.
Free radicals can cause damage to parts of cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by STEALING THEIR ELECTRONS through a process called oxidation. (This is why free radical damage is also called “oxidative damage.”)
When free radicals OXIDIZE important components of the cell, those components lose their ability to function normally, and the accumulation of such damage may cause the cell to cause illness or die.
The process of oxidation in the human body damages cell membranes and other structures, including cellular proteins, lipids and DNA. When oxygen is metabolized, it creates unstable molecules called ‘free radicals’, which steal electrons from other molecules, causing damage to DNA and other cells.
The body can cope with some free radicals and needs them to function effectively. However, the damage caused by an overload of free radicals over time may become irreversible and lead to certain diseases, including heart disease, liver disease and some cancers (such as oral, oesophageal, stomach and bowel cancers). Oxidation can be accelerated by STRESS, CIGARETTE SMOKING, ALCOHOL, SUNLIGHT, POLLUTION, AND OTHER FACTORS.
SOME CONDITIONS CAUSED BY FREE RADICALS
- deterioration of the eye lens, which contributes to blindness
- inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
- damage to nerve cells in the brain, which contributes to conditions such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease
- acceleration of the ageing process
- increased risk of coronary heart disease, since free radicals encourage low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol to stick to artery walls
- certain cancers, triggered by damaged cell DNA.
FREE RADICAL-GENERATING SUBSTANCES CAN BE FOUND:
– in the food we eat,
– the drugs and medicines we take,
– the air we breathe,
– and the water we drink.
These substances include FRIED FOODS, ALCOHOL, TOBACCO SMOKE, PESTICIDES, AIR POLLUTANTS, AND MANY MORE.
FREE RADICALS are unhinged naturally, by being one electron short. They need that missing electron, so they attack your cells and steal your electrons instead. For every electron they steal, is one cell they’re damaging. Their greed, if left unchecked, can accelerate your aging and induce or worsen illness and disease.
None of this is unnatural however. It’s all a natural part of decay and aging. The oxygen our bodies must have to survive metabolizes into these free radicals. They’re unavoidable and is why our bodies evolved to need and use them. But because of the increased amounts of free radicals every one of us is encountering in our modern time, our bodies are being damaged and decaying more quickly than our ancestors would have.
Don’t worry, though. Mother Nature didn’t leave us high and dry. We have a force for good on our side.
They’re going to fight those FREE RADICALS. Not in the warrier’s way of battle. Our little antioxidants are like GOOD SAMARITANS. They have extra electrons. So why not share with the free radicals? It’s better than watching the free radicals harm the cells.
A diet high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the body cells, and prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation.
So our antioxidants swoop in and toss their extra electrons to the free radicals. Suddenly those blue-striped little monsters are all settled, full-bellied smiley guys and they can move on to be harmlessly metabolized and passed by the body. It was all a misunderstanding? Right guys?
(Paraphrased from Stanford.edu) Antioxidants, also known as “free radical scavengers,” are compounds that either reduce the formation of free radicals or react with and neutralize them. Antioxidants often work by donating an electron to the free radical before it can oxidize other cell components. Once the electrons of the free radical are paired, the free radical is stabilized and becomes non-toxic to cells.
Yay for the good buys!
SO WHERE CAN WE FIND ANTIOXIDANTS?
Antioxidants are found in certain foods and include the nutrient antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals copper, zinc and selenium.
Other dietary food compounds, such as the phytochemicals in plants, are believed to have greater antioxidant effects than vitamins or minerals. These are called the non-nutrient antioxidants and include phytochemicals, such as lycopenes in tomatoes and anthocyanins found in cranberries.
SOURCES OF ANTIOXIDANTS
Plant foods are rich sources of antioxidants. They are most abundant in fruits and vegetables, as well as other foods including nuts, wholegrains and some meats, poultry and fish.
GOOD SOURCES OF SPECIFIC ANTIOXIDANTS INCLUDE:
- allium sulphur compounds – leeks, onions and garlic
- anthocyanins – eggplant, grapes and berries
- beta-carotene – pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach and parsley
- catechins – red wine and tea
- copper – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
- cryptoxanthins – red capsicum, pumpkin and mangoes
- flavonoids – tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion and apples
- indoles – cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
- isoflavonoids – soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk
- lignans – sesame seeds, bran, whole grains and vegetables
- lutein – green, leafy vegetables like spinach, and corn
- lycopene – tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon
- manganese – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
- polyphenols – thyme and oregano
- selenium – seafood, offal, lean meat and whole grains
- vitaminA – liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, and egg yolks
- vitaminC – oranges, blackcurrants, kiwifruit, mangoes, broccoli, spinach, capsicum and strawberries
- vitaminE – vegetable oils (such as wheatgerm oil), avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- zinc – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
- zoochemicals – red meat, offal and fish. Also derived from the plants that animals eat.
There is increasing evidence that antioxidants are more effective when obtained from whole foods, rather than isolated from a food and presented in tablet form – and some supplements can actually increase cancer risk.
- High-dose antioxidant supplements may be harmful in some cases. For example, the results of some studies have linked the use of high-dose beta-carotene supplements to an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers and use of high-dose vitamin E supplements to increased risks of hemorrhagic stroke (a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain) and prostate cancer.
- Like some other dietary supplements, antioxidant supplements may interact with certain medications. For example, vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of bleeding in people who are taking anticoagulant drugs (“blood thinners”). There is conflicting evidence on the effects of taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment; some studies suggest that this may be beneficial, but others suggest that it may be harmful. The National Cancer Institute recommends that people who are being treated for cancer talk with their health care provider before taking supplements.
A study examining the effects of vitamin E found that it did not offer the same benefits when taken as a supplement. Also, antioxidant minerals or vitamins can act as pro-oxidants or damaging ‘oxidants’ if they are consumed at levels significantly above the recommended amounts for dietary intake.
A well-balanced diet, which includes consuming antioxidants from whole foods, is best. If you insist on taking a supplement, seek supplements that contain all nutrients at the recommended levels.
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT
The more you know, right? I always knew cigarette smoke and nasty medications were bad for the body, but I never knew how and why. I’ll be sure to avoid them even more now, and increase my fruits, nuts and vegetables to get more antioxidants in there to hand out free health-making electrons.
Thanks for sticking with me on this journey of education and healthy living. It’s been exciting and illuminating. If only one person gets to experience a renewal and vital life from all of this research, I can die a happy woman.
Better Health Chanel, Australia Gov – https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants
US Dept of Health and Human Services – https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm