Siegfried Gursche, MH
</P> Before discussing the types of antioxidants, let me first give you an overview of what antioxidants are and how they help maintain good health.
Before discussing the types of antioxidants, let me first give you an overview of what antioxidants are and how they help maintain good health. Antioxidants are "free radical scavengers," which immediately begs the question: what are free radicals? Free radicals are created in our bodies through exposure to various environmental factors automobile fumes, radiation from atomic reactors, some pharmaceutical drugs, chemicals in our food, and tobacco smoke. However, free radicals are formed mainly by many processes within the body and are the natural by-products of the cell's metabolic action. Simply put, every time you take a breath and inhale oxygen you are doing two things: first, supplying the cells with oxygen for burning carbohydrates thereby creating energy to the body; and second, aiding oxidation by creating unstable molecule compounds in your body. These unstable molecules are free radicals.
Oxidation causes a sliced apple to turn brown and causes iron to rust. Your body suffers from this same process. It's called aging.
Science describes free radicals "as unstable, highly reactive compounds or molecular fragments which consist of two or more elements held together by a chemical attraction called a 'bond'." This bonding involves electrons two electrons make a stable pair and leave the single one unstable, looking to team up again. As the free electron grabs another molecule to pair with, a reaction between the compounds begins to make another free radical. This is a chain reaction that happens so fast that one free radical can damage more than a million molecules if not stopped by free radical scavengers antioxidants.
Free radicals also damage proteins in cell membranes, which prevent healthy cells from multiplying. A damaged membrane cannot properly take nutrients into the cell and remove waste (toxins). As a result, the cell dies of starvation or by choking on waste products. Another way free radicals damage cells is by reacting with DNA, the genetic material in cells. Some fifty to sixty diseases are known to be caused by free radical damage, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke. And, of course, the aging process accelerates when free radicals are at work. Healthy cells multiply at an enormous rate; but if they die because of free radical action, we age faster.
Cracking Down on Free Radicals
Antioxidants play the role of "police" in the body, disarming the aggressiveness of free radicals before they get a chance to do harm. Simply put, antioxidants reduce the damaging action of free radicals by "oxidizing" them, either by removing a hydrogen molecule or by adding an oxygen molecule, so that they fall apart; hence the term oxidation, which browns the apple, makes carrot juice murky brown and makes iron rust. Following is a list of various antioxidants and their effects on the body.
We all have heard of the devastating effects of scurvy in sailors of seafaring nations-lost teeth and even death due to a deficiency of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant required to prevent free radicals from hindering the building and renewing of collagen. Drs. Shute of London, ON found in the early 1930s that vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) is a powerful protector of the heart muscle due to its antioxidant action. It also protects all cell membranes.
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid found in all members of the cabbage family, spinach and carrots. It has proven protective effects in cancer patients, against infection, for the strengthening of mucous membranes and for improving eyesight. Scientists have also suggested that diets high in carotenoids may decrease the risk of breast cancer.
Lycopene is another carotenoid, found in tomatoes and concentrated tomato products. According to many scientific studies in recent years, it prevents oxidation of low density lipoprotein (LDL), the bad cholesterol and reduces the risk of developing atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. In addition to helping the heart, lycopene has promising effects for fighting breast and prostate cancer.
CoQ10 coenzyme, a quinone, is found in the mitochondria (energy-producers) of every cell. CoQ10 is Japan's best- selling cardiovascular prescription drug. There have been many studies to support the theory that CoQ10 repairs heart damage, boosts the function of the heart, and acts as a preventive to safeguard against heart attacks. Heart cells require the most energy and thus CoQ10 is found in abundance here.
Pycnogenol or better yet, oligophenolic compounds (OPCs) are the latest and greatest in the antioxidant discoveries. The French scientist Jacques Masquelier from Bordeaux has done pioneering work in the discovery of pycnogenol and OPCs. They are derived from grape seed extract and extracts of bilberries, cranberries and others berries. For more details of this fascinating discovery, read the new comprehensive book just published by alive books, Nature's Best Heart Medicine by Susanna Diamond.
Many of the fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants are brightly coloured the rich, midnight blue of blueberries, blood-red raspberries and tomatoes, and bright orange carrots. These colours are caused by compounds called bioflavonoids and polyphenols both potent antioxidants in their own right, which also help to fight disease.
Though most of the antioxidant products sold in health food stores contain the extracts of the European low-growing blueberry (bilberry), which has a dark blue-purplish juice and the highest concentration of colourful flavonoids, you will also obtain plenty of antioxidants from our local blueberries grown in British Columbia and other parts of Canada. Bilberries have been known to increase night vision and improve eyesight in general.
In conclusion, your best bet for protection against damaging free radicals is to eat a diet rich in fruits and berries, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, cantaloupe, and mangoes, all excellent sources of antioxidants.