Nutrition

Free Radicals and Antioxidants

This post is for everyone in the whole family – not just the pregnant mom…..

FREE RADICALS: I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the term free radicals before but you may not completely understand what free radicals are or what they do in your body. Free radicals are not always bad for you. As a matter of fact, when they are kept in check, free radicals actually help your body function properly. Free radicals perform many critical functions in the body, from controlling the flow of blood through the arteries, to fighting infection, to keeping the brain sharp and focused.

So, free radicals can be good but we have to interact with them the right way, or they can quickly turn against us. How do we keep these free radicals in check so they are beneficial and not causing problems within the body? The key may be to maintain an optimal balance between free radicals and antioxidants. We may be able to do this by consuming adequate amounts of antioxidants in the form of food and supplements, as well as by limiting our exposure to things like pollution, smoking, poor diet and anything else in the environment that may harm us.

ANTIOXIDANTS: Antioxidants are talked about all the time but what are they and how do they help you stay healthy? Antioxidants are a group of compounds that are produces by the body and that occur naturally in many foods. They work together in the body to maintain health and vigor well into the late decades of life. This is done by protecting the body from damage caused by free radicals. By controlling free radicals, antioxidants may make the difference between life and death, as well as influence how fast and how well we age.

There are five antioxidants that Lester Packer, PhD, author of the book The Antioxidant Miracle, calls “network antioxidants” because they work together in the body to strengthen us and protect us from disease. The five network antioxidants are:

  • Lipoic Acid which may offer powerful protection against three common ailments of aging – stroke, heart disease and cataracts. This network antioxidant may strengthen memory and prevents brain aging. Lipoic acids may also boost the entire antioxidant network giving your body increased levels of the other network antioxidants. While lipoic acid is new to the United States it has been used successfully in Europe for more than two decades. Lipoic acid may turn off bad genes that can accelerate aging and cause cancer. It is reported to reverse mushroom poisoning of the liver, which is usually fatal. It has been used successfully to treat other liver diseases such as hepatitis C. From the book, The Antioxidant Miracle, we read on page 47 “Recently, Dr. Dan Ziegler and Dr. F. Arnold Gries at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf had even more exciting news to report about lipoic acid. They found that treatment with lipoic acid actually stimulated the regeneration of nerve fibers in diabetics. In as little as three weeks of treatment, patients taking 600 milligrams of lipoic acid daily experienced a significant reduction in pain and numbness associated with neuropathy.”

  • Vitamin E has been reported to keep your skin youthful by protecting against damage from UV radiation and ozone, the major causes of wrinkles, brown spots and even cancer. It may also relieve symptoms of arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Vitamin E has also shown promise for reducing the risk of prostate cancer in men and may inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. Vitamin E is made of three “family members” – alpha tocopherol, tocotrienols and gamma tocopherol. From the book The Antioxidant Miracle, on page 65 it is reported that, “…tocotrienols may be a safe alternative to surgergy for patients suffering from carotid stenosis. In a four-year study, patients with severe carotid stenosis were given either tocotrienols or a placebo. Each patient’s progress was measured by an ultrasound examination, which produces a picture of the carotid artery. Ultrasound scans of patients were performed at six months, twelve months, and yearly thereafter….94 percent of the patients receiving tocotrienols improved or stabilized, where as non of the controls improved, and over half got work. What is particularly noteworthy about this study is that it is the first study to produce a regression in clogged arteries and an improvement in arterial health and blood flow in humans.”

  • Vitamin C daily supplementation may significantly reduces the risk of dying of cancer and heart disease. Vitamin C may also prevent cancer by shielding DNA from free radical damage. It appears as though it protects sperm from free radical damage. Men who are conceiving children may want to be vigilant about taking extra vitamin C daily. Vitamin C seems to regenerate vitamin E and may interact with flavonoid antioxidants in the network. It may be critical for a well-functioning immune system. By strengthening immune function, vitamin C may reduce the length and severity of colds and viruses and bolster the body’s ability to resist cancer. Vitamin C has shown promise as a vitamin for great skin because it is essential for the production of collagen, which is the cellular glue that holds the body together and keeps skin young and supple. According the Lester Packer in the book, The Antioxidant Miracle, we read on page 87, “…in a study performed at Duke University Medical Center, researchers examined the effects of vitamin C on collagen synthesis in skin cells from either newborns (three to eight days old) or older adults (seventy-eight to ninety-three years old). In both cases, the researchers reported that the cells grew at a faster rate and were thicker when grown with vitamin C. They found that vitamin C actually enhanced the production of collagen synthesis.” Working with vitamin E, vitamin C may prevent the oxidation of lipoproteins that can lead to heart disease. Vitamin C may also protect against cataracts, a leading cause of vision problems among older people.

  • Coenzyme Q10 is fat-soluble and may be able to regenerate vitamin E in the antioxidant network. CoQ10 has been used for more than two decades to successfully treat and prevent heart disease in Japan. CoQ10 may rejuvenate brain cells and may help to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It is currently being investigated as a treatment for advanced breast cancer and may be useful for treating gum disease. On page 104 of The Antioxidant Miracle it states, “In an open trial conducted in the United States, patients undergoing periodontal surgery who took CoQ10 recovered up to three times faster than those who did not.”

  • Glutathione depletion may be an indication of illness and premature death. Glutathione is produced by the body and is primarily water-soluble. It appears to recycle the oxidized form of vitamin C, restoring its antioxidant power. Lipoic acid may boost levels of glutathione. Glutathione may be instrumental in the detoxification of drugs and pollutants and for healthy liver function. It may also be important for a strong immune system and may reverse an age-related slump in immune function. Glutathione is involved in the storage and transport of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. According to The Antioxidant Miracle, page 112, “…researchers at the University of Louisville School of Medicine…mosquitoes were given NAC, which is known to boost glutathione 50 to 100 percent in the cells of mosquitoes. The result was that the mosquitoes with the elevated glutathione levels lived about 40 percent longer than normal.”

NETWORK ANTIOXIDANT BOOSTERS: Boosters do just what the name implies – they boost the effectiveness of the network antioxidants. This means that these wonderful compounds will actually work better when specific boosters are also present in nutrition and supplementation routine. The boosters are:

  • Flavonoids may improve memory and concentration and may also be used to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD). Flavonoids are powerful free radical scavengers that can boost the effectiveness of vitamin C. They may regulate nitric oxide, a potent free radical that is a regulator of blood flow. Flavonoids may also keep the heart healthy in three important ways: they prevent blood clots, protect against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and lower high blood pressure. Flavonoids also may improve sexual function in men. They may also reduce inflammation and bolster immune function.

  • Carotenoids may offer powerful protection against many different types of cancer. The carotenoid lycopene has been associated with lower rates of prostate cancer. The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are associated with a decrease risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Beta carotene can boost immune function in older people but mixed carotenoids may do it better. Eating a diet high in carotenoid foods may reduce the risk of heart disease.

  • Selenium – is not an antioxidant but it is an essential component of two important antioxidant enzymes. Selenium works in synergy with vitamin E. It protects against many different forms of cancer, including lung, prostate and colon cancer. Living in an area where there is little selenium in the soil may put you at greater risk of dying from stroke and heart disease.

How do we keep the antioxidants in charge so they are readily able to keep the free radicals in check? First, we start by eating foods that are known to be high in antioxidants. Food like:

  • Apples

  • Berries

  • Carrots

  • Citrus Fruits

  • Cruciferous Vegetables

  • Dried Fruit

  • Garlic and Onions

  • Greens

  • Red Grapes and Wine

  • Sesame Oil and Seeds

  • Soy Foods

  • Spinach

  • Sweet Potatoes

  • Tomatoes

  • Tea

  • Turmeric

  • Walnuts

  • Winter Squashes

Next, we add supplements to our daily routine. A basic antioxidant cocktail created by Lester Packer, PhD, author of The Antioxidant Miracle, recommends that a good routine may look something like:

  • In the morning Packer suggests that one may want to do the following:

    • Vitamin E family

      • 100mg tocotrienols

      • 200mg mixed tocopherols

    • CoQ10

      • 30 mg

    • Lipoic Acid

      • 50 mg

    • Vitamin C

      • 250 mg ester vitamin C

    • Folic Acid

      • 400mcg

    • Biotin

      • 300 mcg

    • Vitamin B6

      • 2 mg

  • In the evening Packer suggests that one may want to do the following:

    • Vitamin E family

      • 200 mg natural alpha tocopherol

    • Lipoic Acid

      • 50 mg

    • Vitamin C

      • 250mg ester C

    • Ginkgo Biloba

      • 30 mg

    • Selenium

      • 250 mcg

One cannot assume that this will be enough if there are already special circumstances like smoking, diabetes, etc. There are additional supplements that may improve the overall health of these individuals. Packer suggests that the following supplements be added to either morning or evening routines:

  • Smokers may choose to add:

    • 100 mg lipoic acid

    • 100 mg tocotrienols

    • 50 mg CoQ10

    • 20 mg Pycnogenol

  • Diabetics may choose to add:

    • 100 mg lipoic acid

    • 1,000-mg GLA capsule

    • 200 mcg chromium

  • Athletes may choose to add:

    • 250 mg L-carnitine

  • Menopausal women may choose to add:

    • 1,200 mg calcium

    • 100 mg tocotrienols

  • People at high risk of cancer may choose to add:

    • 100 mg lipoic acid

    • 100 gm tocotrienols

    • 50 mg CoQ10

    • 20 mg Pycnogenol

  • People at high risk of cardiovascular disease may choose to add:

    • 50 mg CoQ10

    • 100 mg tocotrienols (pm)

    • 100 mg lipoic acid

    • 20mg Pycnogenol

  • Picky eaters may choose to add:

    • flavonoid complex

    • cruciferous-plus

    • mixed carotenoid complex

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