You've probably heard of antioxidants from advertisements, food labels, or beauty products. And, you know they're a good thing, but what exactly is an antioxidant & how does it work?
A little science lesson:
What is oxidation?
You've seen rust on an old car, right? That rust is the product of oxidation. Oxidation can happen to the cells in your body, too. Oxidation means that the cell has been damaged. To explain: All molecules should have 2 paired electrons. But, damaged cells have lost an electron and have become "free radicals" that are searching to steal an electron from another molecule and become whole again. This sets off a chain reaction called "oxidative stress".
One of the results of stealing electrons is "lipid peroxidation" (oxidation of the fat in your body). That means that it turns body fats rancid. Gross!
Luckily, antioxidants interrupt the oxidation process in your cells!
How do antioxidants stop the cellular damage?
Antioxidants distract the free radicals so that the cells are not damaged any further. The antioxidant sacrifices itself and donates an electron to the free-radical; this is called reduction.
Together the process of oxidation and reduction is called redox. Redox establishes balance - it is a homeostasis. It is a balance between the pro-oxidants and the antioxidants.
What causes this cellular damage (oxidation)?
Smoking, alcohol, infection, excess exercise, environmental toxins, heavy metals, imbalances of minerals and vitamins, oxidized polyunsaturated fats, trans-fats, radiation, injuries, surgeries, drugs, a lack of sleep, emotional stress
- any of these can become pro-oxidants.
Which foods deplete the body of antioxidants?
Foods fried in unhealthy oils, chemical food additives, processed foods, and refined flours. In addition, antioxidants are used up when in contact with polyunsaturated oils and rancid fats in oils. More are needed when any of these foods are consumed.
So, what if you don't get enough antioxidants?
You will see premature aging - age spots and wrinkles, for example. (Look at someone who has smoked for a long time- that's a face of oxidative stress!) Or, there could be lower immune function, an increase of allergy sensitivity, or irritable bowel disease. There could be an increase in inflammation in the muscles or joints. Arthritis is very much related to oxidative stress. There could be nerve degeneration, as in what happens in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Oxidative stress places a person at increased risk for some of the most serious diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer as well.
Which foods are high in antioxidants?
Luckily, we have a line of defense with antioxidants that are found in many nutritious whole foods. They tend to be in highly colored fruits and vegetables, such as squashes, dark leafy greens, red and yellow peppers, and blue and red berries. Vitamins A, C, E and the minerals zinc and selenium are antioxidants. (Vitamins E and C are our first lines of defense.) Plus, the antioxidants our body makes itself include CoQ10, glutathione, and melatonin.
A great example is to imagine what happens to an apple after you cut it. It will turn brown quickly. That's the start of oxidation. But, if you put some lemon juice on it, it will stay looking fresh. Why? Lemon juice contains vitamin C, an antioxidant!
Are you aging gracefully?
If you're like me, you pay attention to what will keep you feeling young and looking pretty. (Or, for you guys out there: what will keep you a buff, stud muffin, and a chick-magnet. Ha, ha!)
Vitamin E & Selenium are both a part of the “anti-aging” or “longevity” group because they work together in synergy to carry out antioxidant functions.
Vitamin E keeps you youthful because it stabilizes the cell membranes and protects other tissues most sensitive to oxidation, including the skin, eyes, liver, lungs, breasts, and testes. It helps to protect our skin inside and out. It is used to neutralize the harmful byproducts of our own body's metabolism and of any outside pollutants that we come in contact with, ingest, or take in through our food, air or liquids. So, it is the most metabolically active vitamin that we have.
Fortunately, vitamin E found in nature is also found where high levels of oxidative polyunsaturated fats are found. The various tocopherol forms are found in animal foods such as butter, egg yolk, milk fat, and liver. However, they are much more plentiful from plant sources, especially in the oil from grains, seeds, and nuts. It comes from the outer covering, the germ of the grain, which is lost when refined. Extraction must be done by cold-pressing in order for the vitamin E to be preserved.
Supplements of vitamin E are best in the natural d-form of tocopherols and tocotrienols. 400-800 IU per day is a common dose. More is needed as we age. Vitamin E is the least likely fat-soluble vitamin to provoke toxicity, primarily because it is used as an antioxidant.
Selenium is a mineral that helps you look great by functioning as a part of the protein enzyme glutathione peroxidase (GPO), which helps prevent cellular degeneration. Selenium also prevents or lessens the aging process by helping to retain youthful elasticity in body tissues. Protection to the body’s cells by selenium is enhanced by its synergy with vitamin E.
Animal sources of selenium include liver, butter, eggs, most fish (especially salmon, snapper and halibut), seafood, and lamb. The plant sources considered high in selenium include brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, and Brazil nuts. Depending on the soil, other good plant sources may be: barley, oats, brown rice, garlic, onions, mushroom, broccoli, tomatoes, radishes, Swiss chard, and mustard seeds.
Deficiency in selenium is rare. Just 2 Brazil nuts per day is all that is needed for a healthy supply of selenium. It's important for thyroid function, too. High levels of selenium can be toxic, but that is rare, also.
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw Vitamin E contains both Vitamin E and Selenium, plus other important vitamins. It's great for skin and hair!
(Disclaimer: Always check with your personal physician before adding in new supplements.)
Lastly, be sure to get in a mix of many vitamins and minerals!
All of the antioxidants do not work alone; they need a good supply of many vitamins and minerals to function in your enzymes and do their job as antioxidants.
Be healthy and stay beautiful, my lovelies!!
the book Staying Healthy with Nutrition, by Elson Haas, MD
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