The process of oxidation takes place in the body as part of the body’s energy-producing metabolism. It provides the vast amounts of energy required to keep us alive, and it continues as long as we live. It is a very precise, ordered process, which calls for the presence of catalysts (such as enzymes) at various stages throughout, and it is designed to produce the maximum amount of energy for the cells without disturbing their balance and functions.
Free Radicals and Ageing
This process can generate by-products, in the form of highly reactive and destructive molecules, called free radicals. These molecules are dangerous because they are unstable. They carry a small electrical charge, and have a single unpaired electron, which makes them extremely volatile and liable to react with other atoms and molecules they contact. Even more free radicals are rapidly generated from these chain reactions.
Biological systems are designed in such a way that free radicals are part of their normal functioning. The body copes with oxidative stress by using its own antioxidant mechanisms based on certain enzymes, proteins, vitamins and minerals, described below. But if free radicals get out of hand, they can overtake this natural defence system and bring about the degeneration of body cells, which ultimately leads to aging and degenerative disease.
Recent developments in the biochemical study of free radical action have provided a more unified understanding of degenerative processes. It is now possible for researchers to make sense of the causation of a variety of pathological conditions, including cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and other diseases of old age, and to work towards counteracting and preventing these conditions.
Free radicals operate by attacking molecules of protein in the body and causing them to become cross-linked. Cross-linkage degrades the molecules of cells and tissues so that they harden and lose their elasticity. This happens both internally, resulting in hardening of the arteries and the degeneration of brain tissue, and also externally, producing wrinkling of the skin. Because proteins are the basic building matter of all the types of cells and tissue, this attack affects all protein functions, including cell building and repair, hormone and enzyme production, muscular and vascular tissue, and the immune system. The nucleic acids DNA and RNA, which carry the genetic messages of the cells, are also affected.
Causes of Increased Free Radical Production
To an extent, free radicals are a natural result of body processes. Especially in today’s world, however, the production of free radicals is likely to be accelerated by many outside influences:
Pollution, Pesticides, Radiation, Solvents.
Air conditioners, Aerosol sprays, Dry Cleaners.
Car exhaust fumes.
Physical or emotional stress or trauma.
Cigarette smoke, Excessive alcohol intake.
Faulty protein digestion.
Spoiled or tainted foods, Rancid, heated and hydrogenated fats.
Chemicals in food.
Ozone, Ultra-violet rays.
Add to this the fact that humans eat fewer natural foods (especially raw foods rich in protective elements), and we can see why our health is becoming compromised.
The Benefits of Antioxidant Elements
Ideally, the body protects itself with the help of naturally occurring elements, which it derives directly from the diet, or produces using dietary sources. The first of these to be discovered are often called the First Generation Antioxidants.
Superoxide dismutase (SOD), Glutathione peroxidase, Catalase.
Vitamins A, C, and E.
Arginine, Cysteine, Glutamine, Taurine.
The antioxidant enzymes are the first line of defense. But the body needs adequate supplies of other nutrients before enzymes can be effective. Superoxide dismutase requires zinc, manganese and copper, and glutathione peroxidase requires selenium and vitamin E – which, as we know, operate synergistically. If these nutrients are not available in sufficient quantity, the scavenging activity of the enzymes is reduced.
The Second Generation Antioxidants
As research into antioxidants developed, a “second generation” of more powerful free radical fighters emerged: the Carotenoids (associated with Vitamin A) and the Bioflavonoids (which enhance the action of Vitamin C). These were far more powerful in their action than Vitamins, and remained longer in the body, increasing their effectiveness even further.
Carotenoids (over 600):
Bioflavonoids (over 800):
Rutin, Hesperidin, Quercetin, Anthocynosides, Catechins.
If a diet contains enough fruit and vegetables, bioflavonoids should not be lacking, but today’s dietary habits and cultivation methods make for deficiency.
Some Notes About Antioxidant Herbs and Health Foods
Bilberry, Echinacea, Evening Primrose, Garlic, Ginger, Ginkgo Biloba, Hawthorn Berry, Milk Thistle, Rosemary, Wild Cabbage.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Grape Seed Extract, Green Tea, Pollen, Propolis, Pine Bark Extract.
Tomatoes are the best source of the carotenoid Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes and pink fruits their colour. Studies have proved that lycopene is far better absorbed from cooked tomato products than from raw tomatoes. Lycopene has been shown to have beneficial effects on prostate cancer.
Bilberry, in addition to vitamins A and C, has high levels of anthocynosides. These bioflavonoids fortify blood vessel walls, improving blood flow to the vessels that keep eyes healthy, and they help maintain good circulation throughout the body. Bilberry has a reputation for improving night vision and preventing and treating macular degeneration and cataracts.
Green Tea contains bioflavonoids called catechins. These antioxidants may selectively inhibit the growth of cancer. Positive results have been obtained from studies of green tea, although it appears black tea cannot be shown to have the same effects.
Fresh Berry Fruits contain bioflavonoids, especially the dark berries such as noni, goji berries, blueberries, blackberries and pomegranate.
Grape Seed and Pine Bark Extracts both contain proanthocyanidin bioflavonoids. The pycnogenol and catechins present in pine bark extract are said to be extremely effective, exerting a stabilising effect on collagen and cellular membranes of all kinds. Grape seed extract contains a very high level of proanthocyanidins.
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