Good Nutrition vs Free Radicals

No, this article is not about a Wild West shoot-out or about the politics of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Today’s  health opportunity is how to battle the free radicals within your body.

What is a “free radical”?   Free radicals are atoms or groups of atoms with an odd (unpaired) number of electrons. They are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed these highly reactive radicals can start a chain reaction within your body.  While a few free radicals such as melanin are not chemically reactive, most biologically-relevant free radicals are highly reactive. For most biological structures, free radical damage is closely associated with oxidative damage.

Why do you care?  The chief danger from radicals is the damage they can do when they react with important cellular components such as DNA, or the cell membrane. Cells may function poorly or die if this occurs.  This damage, of particular interest to baby boomers and other aging persons, is cumulative.  Years of incorrect diet, lack of proper nutrition and exposure to toxins wears down the body’s tissues and natural defenses of antioxidants.


What are antioxidants?    Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged. Although there are several enzyme systems within the body that scavenge free radicals, the principle micro-nutrient (vitamin) antioxidants are vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Additionally, selenium, a trace metal that is required for proper function of one of the body’s antioxidant enzyme systems, is sometimes included in this category. The body cannot manufacture these micro-nutrients so they must be supplied in the diet.

How do we fight Radicals?  Your body automatically generates some antioxidants in the form of certain enzymes.  Exercise helps this process due to higher consumption of oxygen during exercise.  You can also acquire them through certain foods or supplements.  The data is not conclusive but it is thought by many nutritionists and doctors that antioxidants have a role in slowing down the aging process, preventing heart disease, and preventing strokes.  Less evidence exists that they help prevent cancer.

The principal antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin, E, and beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A.   Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin present in citrus fruits and juices, green peppers, cabbage, spinach, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, kiwi, and strawberries.  The U.S. RDA is for 60 mg per day although nearly everyone agree that amounts up to 2000 mg are likely better.   Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin present in nuts, seeds, vegetable and fish oils, whole grains, and apricots.  The RDA is 15 IU for men and 12 IU for women.  Beta-carotene is present in liver, egg yolks, milk, butter, spinach, carrots, squash, broccoli, yams, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, and grains.  The is no RDA but since it turns into vitamin A, excessive levels can become toxic.  Other notable products with antioxidant properties are alpha lipoic acid (ALA), astaxanthin, melatonin and Co-enzyme Q (CoQ10).

Although many persons may take nutritional supplements to increase antioxidants and decrease radicals in their bodies, these are not a substitute to consuming good foods.  Those that eat lots of fruit and vegetables appear to have a lower risk of  cancer  and heart disease., although that may be other components of these foods, such as fiber, according to researchers.

In summary, while there is not absolute proof that consuming antioxidants prevents disease, there is definite evidence that free radicals do damage to many parts of the human body.  As usual, your diet seems to play the most important role, along with exercise. A number of berries and other “superfoods” should be examined for their potential impact too.  Supplements such a vitamins C & E, selenium, melatonin, and beta-carotene may also be an excellent choice, although there is less proof of their value.

Don’t miss this nutrition opportunity to slow down your aging.