What are antioxidants?
An “antioxidant” is a property of certain nutrients. There are many different types of nutrients which function as antioxidants. Vitamins A, C, E have antioxidant properties. The minerals Copper and Selenium when combined with proper ratios of Zinc can work together to increase antioxidant activity. Some enzymes generated in the body function as antioxidants such as Catalase, Peroxidase and Super Oxide Dismutase (S.O.D.) – these enzymes, which decrease with age, need to be activated by certain nutrients contained in foods such as pomegranate and mangosteen. Astaxanthin, an antioxidant found in red algae, is considered the most powerful antioxidant known to man. This molecule, which has a long and antennae-like structure, can easily absorb many more times the free radicals than vitamin C and vitamin E. It is considered extremely heart protective.
Why do I need a variety of antioxidants, isn’t one just enough?
Antioxidants can be compared to a football team. Just like a football team needs many different types of players to perform different roles, the body needs a variety of antioxidants to ensure a healthy metabolism. If a football team is missing a wide receiver or a quarterback, the play doesn’t work very well. Similarly, if our body is missing a certain type of antioxidant, our cells cannot have optimum health.
Not all antioxidants can go everywhere in the body. Some antioxidants can only work inside our cells, like glutathione, and certain enzyme based antioxidants. Some antioxidants are small enough to cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) and protect our brain from excess oxidation which contributes to neurodegeneration and plaque buildup in the brain. Antioxidants protect our cells from the harmful byproducts produced by oxidation, also called “oxidative stress”, which yields free radicals.
What is oxidation; is it good or bad?
Oxidation occurs whenever our cells use oxygen. We must have oxidation in order to survive, without it we would die. However, oxidation can yield harmful byproducts after our cells burn an oxygen molecule; these harmful compounds are called “free radicals”. A free radical is a stray, unpaired electron. Electrons don’t like to be unpaired, therefore seek out other electrons by stealing them from healthy tissues in order to stabilize itself. After stealing the electron, a damaged leftover cell that unwillingly gave up an electron is left behind. This damaged cell functions less optimally than before, and if it gets damaged by enough free radicals can become crippled and not do its job properly, and even die prematurely. This process continues on and on, free radicals damaging tissues unless it can be stopped with an antioxidant. Free radicals are considered a primary cause of aging, and are associated with all injuries and health issues.
Ways that we increase oxidation are through exercise, inflammation, stress, poor diet, smoking, exposure to radiation, illicit drugs, most medications, and pollutants to name a few. Being alive requires oxidation, there is no stopping it, and therefore it is important to have a healthy diet to absorb these free radicals which result from oxidation. Notice that we mentioned exercise; this is because anything that considerably speeds up our metabolism yields more free radicals. Exercise is good, we need it! However, we must consume foods that provide healthy amounts of antioxidants to neutralize the harmful byproducts that exercise can leave behind. Have you ever heard of “healthy” athletic people such as marathoners having a heart attack at a young age? “But they were so healthy” is the comment commonly heard. Free radical damage can not only affect our cells, but can scar the inner smooth surface of our blood vessels. If these tiny micro-tears are not properly repaired by the body, they can create spaces that allow arterial plaque to take hold and build up.
How does an antioxidant work?
Have you ever seen the movie “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston? At the end of the movie the bodyguard hero, played by Kevin Costner, jumps in front of Whitney Houston as the villain attempts to shoot her. Kevin Costner, the bodyguard, “takes the bullet”, sparing Whitney Houston and saving the day. This is how an antioxidant works. Antioxidants “take the bullet” of free radicals, so your joints, tissues and cells don’t have to. An antioxidant has the unusual ability to safely absorb free radicals, therefore prevent further damage to your cells and tissues. An antioxidant typically does this by generously sharing its outer ring electrons to bond with harmful free radicals. The greater the number of electrons in the outer ring, the more powerful the antioxidant due its higher absorbency potential. Antioxidants essentially “mop up” free radicals in the body.
How do you recognize a lack of antioxidants in the body?
We have a unique set of tests that we can use to detect a lack of antioxidants in the body, or can assess if your antioxidants are working properly. Click here to contact us.