(excerpt from my book ‘Health & Happiness’, revised edition 2013, available from www.healthstresswellness.com)
An antioxidant is exactly what is says: against oxygen. Every living thing needs oxygen. But certain kinds of oxygen can be dangerous and detrimental to our health. During all the metabolic processes in the body, abnormal oxygen is constantly formed. In a normal oxygen atom two pairs of electrons revolve around the nucleus. This is how the oxygen atom remains in balance. During the metabolic processes in the body, oxygen (and hydrogen) atoms acquire an extra unpaired electron. This makes the oxygen atom unstable and biochemically very active. Oxygen or hydrogen atoms such as these are called free radicals. They want to pass the extra electron on to the nearest neighbour (or remove an electron from the nearest neighbour) so that a paired group of electrons once again revolves in the outer ring of the atom. The atom will go to any length to recover a natural balance or equilibrium. However, the process turns the neighbour into a free radical. This sets up a vicious circle and a chain reaction is set in motion that can cause extensive cell damage.
This reaction of free radical formation can occur in the cell membrane, which eventually causes the membrane with its phospholipid chains to break. This leads to a leaking of the content of the cell and the cell loses its function. Free radicals can also damage the cell nucleus, where the sensitive DNA molecule that controls all cell functions is found. Free radicals can destroy enzyme systems and damage mitochondria (the energy centres of every cell where all the energy for the cell’s requirements is generated).
Free radicals are mainly formed in four ways:
- Free radicals are formed during the generation of energy in the cell – they are the by-products of the electron transfer metabolic chain.
- The detoxification and neutralising of foreign substances such as medication, alcohol, toxins and chemicals which generate large numbers of free radicals.
- When the immune system is activated to eliminate or neutralise foreign organisms (bacteria, parasites and fungi), abnormal cells (such as cancer cells) and foreign protein molecules, the white blood cells produce free radicals to attack these invaders. After the attack, however, the increased number of free radicals remains in the cells and blood.
- Free radicals can enter the body from outside such as ultraviolet light, air pollution and pesticides, as well as from inside such as poor diet, high stress levels that put a high demand on the metabolism, from medication and other drugs, as well as excess alcohol.
Examples of free radicals are the superoxide radical, hydrogen peroxide radical, singlet oxygen radical and hydroxyl radical.
Free radicals are extremely destructive and can cause irreparable damage to the delicate biochemical harmony and balance between the cell and the nucleus. The accumulation of free radicals play an important role in the ageing process.
If the DNA growth control centre is damaged, cells can lose the ability to know when they should stop dividing and growing as in cancer, and the telomerase enzyme becomes less active and cell ageing is accelerated.
The good news is that there are three antioxidant enzymes in every cell to keep these free radicals under control. They are superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. These enzymes donate an electron to the hyperactive oxygen and hydrogen radicals, which are then neutralised and rendered harmless. However, these enzymes cannot always cope with all the free radicals that are formed for the following reasons:
1 Increased production of free radicals (more free radicals are produced than the three enzymes can handle):
- This often happens to people who participate in sports competitively – the more active and competitive they are, the more free radicals are formed on account of the increased metabolism.
- People with diabetes have an abnormal glucose metabolism combined with oxidative stress (which increases oxidation thereby increasing the production of free radicals). Supplementary antioxidants restrict the tissue damage associated with diabetes, reduce the need for insulin and limit the eventual damage to the end organs (kidney damage, nerve damage, eye damage and gangrene) so often linked to this health challenge.
- All forms of chronic disease (such as arthritis, chronic fatigue, chronic infections, emphysema, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, varicose veins, cancer and AIDS) results in an increased production of free radicals, which spreads the damage caused by the disease and aggravates and prolongs the disease process.
- Prolonged or uncontrolled stress (mostly due to work-life imbalance, type A behaviour, overwhelm, fatigue and deep, often unconscious, intensely negative, buried emotions) over a long period, can significantly increase the metabolism.
2 Increased exposure to free radicals from the environment is another possibility:
- Smoke – cigarette smoke (inhaled directly or indirectly) and industrial smoke from factories and fires.
- Air pollution caused by factories, vehicle exhaust fumes and heaters.
- Exposure to ultraviolet light, including excessive exposure to sunlight.
3 The ageing process itself exerts increasing demands on the enzymes and the enzymes also become less active. Ageing is the sum total of the damage caused by free radicals over a lifetime. It is never too late to take antioxidant supplements, but if you wish to slow down and even stop, the ageing process, the sooner the better. Remember that mental attitude or mind set, old beliefs in ageing as inevitable and general lifestyle, also play a major role in the ageing process.
4. The immune system is an extremely active system. The enzymes work at top speed to protect you against pollution, carcinogens, viruses, bacteria, fungi and every foreign invader imaginable. The lifestyle we lead today puts a high demand on the immune system. Unless we take antioxidants to boost the immune system, we will suffer the consequences. The white blood cells also produce free radicals to destroy foreign invaders. The free radicals are then released into the surrounding tissue and may aggravate tissue damage. Antioxidants help to prevent and control this process.
The antioxidants we take in through our normal daily diet cannot supply all our needs. The main antioxidant nutrients are carotenes, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, vitamins A, E and C and the minerals selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. Examples of antioxidants are pycnogenol (found in pine bark and grape seed extract), the co-enzyme QI0 (essential in the mitochondria or power generators of our cells), cat’s claw, N-acetyl-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid and glutathione.
All fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants. It is, however, virtually impossible to supply all our body’s daily needs through diet alone. We therefore have to take additional antioxidant in the form of nutriceutical (nutri-=nutrition and –pharma=pharmaceutical, i.e. food as medicine) food supplements as well as added it to skin care products to protect our skin from free radical ageing damage.
Damage caused by free radicals plays a role in almost every modern disease.
Everyone will benefit from taking antioxidants.
Dr Arien’s Timeless DNA Heart-Brain-Body Support Formulation will provide potent antioxidants, as well as micronutrients and herbs, specifically selected to support the heart, brain and nervous system, to be taken as supplement, will be available soon.
In the meantime, start eating the following superfoods every day in a smoothie, salad or raw and whole:
- Berries in season, nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes
- Cereal grains, grasses – wheatgrass, brown rice, oats
- Oils – pumpkin seed, coconut, grapeseed, olive
- Spirulina, Chlorella, Moringa leaves, Maca protein powder, Raw honey
- Garlic, Mushrooms, sprouts
- Bee pollen
- Aloe ferox, Seaweed
- Raw cacao – beans, nibs, powder, butter