Antioxidants: powerhouses of nutrition. They’re good for us and we know we should eat them, but do you? Remember, mom used to say, “Eat all your fruits and vegetables so you’ll grow up to be big and strong.” No truer words have been spoken. By eating these nutrient packed foods, we arm our bodies against the scourges of modern medicine: cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As a result, the conventional medical community is taking a good look at these natural compounds that have been touted as powerful weapons in the battle against aging and disease.
But, what are antioxidants, and how can they benefit you? What foods contain them? The answers may be as close as your local grocer or even right there in your own vegetable and fruit bin at home. Let’s take a basic look at some nutrition facts to find the answers.
What are Antioxidants?
According to Dr. Lester Packer in his book, “The Antioxidant Miracle,” antioxidants are a group of compounds that are produced by the body and also found in foods. They work together to protect us from damage caused by free radicals resulting in injury to our body cells. Let’s break that information down by first examining free radicals. This will help us to see why we need antioxidants.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells in our bodies. They are formed during the body’s use of oxygen and nutrients to produce energy. During this process, electrons are transferred back and from between oxygen atoms. When an electron breaks free, it becomes a free radical. This free radical can now attack the DNA that controls cell growth and development. Of course, once cells are damaged, the body becomes vulnerable to disease. An example of this would be the uncontrolled cell growth of malignant and cancerous tumors.
As if this weren’t enough, we are also exposed to free radicals in the environment by things such as air pollution, pesticides, chemicals and preservatives added to our foods, cigarette smoke and a host of other pollutants and chemicals. Disease is thought to come about because the free radicals activate genes responsible for various ailments. It becomes easy now to see that the body can become the unwilling victim to numerous chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. So, the antioxidants are a marvel in that they provide the body with a defense network to protect it from this onslaught of attacks. Without them, we wouldn’t stand a chance.
In Dr. Packer’s book, “The Antioxidant Miracle,” we find that there are a network of antioxidants that work together in deactivating these dangerous free radicals. They are: Vitamins C and E, CoQ10, glutathione and alpha lipoic acid. They are called the network antioxidants because they work together to control free radicals. For example, when Vitamin C deactivates a free radical, it becomes a weak free radical itself. It can however, be restored to an antioxidant by Vitamin E. This information is really mind boggling because, as we’ve all been taught by our moms, it is really important to eat a well balanced diet of fruits and vegetables. We basically have our health in our hands. Or, succinctly put, you are what you eat.
Let’s examine some information about the antioxidants and how they can help us.
Vitamin C has gotten much attention for shortening the duration of the common cold by strengthening the immune system, although this fact is controversial. You may remember that Vitamin C and E work together in the antioxidant network. Vitamin E helps to boost up vitamin C after it has attacked a free radical.
Vitamin C may also significantly reduce the risk of cancer by protecting the DNA from free radical damage. Remember, free radicals ravages the body’s defenses. So any foods that protects the DNA should be consumed regularly and part of wise family meal planning.
Vitamin C may also protective against heart disease and is known to be very helpful in the skin because it is essential in the production of collagen. We know that as we age, collagen and elastin production decreases. So, for the wonderful glow of youth, include plenty of fresh foods high in vitamin C.
Foods high in Vitamin C: sweet red bell peppers, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, mustard greens, papaya, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges.
Suggested daily intake ranges from 500mg to 1000 mg depending on individual body needs.
Vitamin E has been associated with increased sexual vitality-you may already know that. Many chuckle at this thought. But there may be some basis to this due to the fact that in 1936 a study concluded that Vitamin E helped prevent miscarriages in rats. ( Packer, Lester, 1999. The Antioxidant Miracle, New York, NY. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)
Vitamin E may also boosts the immune system and is protective of brain cells, thus eating foods high in vitamin E content may help in cases of Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin E may be good in reducing pain and inflammation in diseases such as arthritis without the harmful gastrointestinal effects of NSAIDs – aspirin and ibuprofen. Many people with the tendency to bleed can not take aspirin. Vitamin E may offer a safe alternative.
In the “Antioxidant Miracle,” Dr. Packer relates that vitamin E may also provide powerful protection against heart disease as it helps in normalizing high cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Studies have been conducted that clearly indicate that vitmain E assists in the reducing of cholesterol and LDL.
Foods high in Vitamin E are: raw vegetable oils, nut butters, rice bran oil, barley.
Suggested daily intake is 500 milligrams.
CoQ10 helps to boost up vitamin E in the network when it deactivates a free radical.
CoQ10 is important in energy production in the body and is located in high amounts in the energy producing area of the cell: the mitochondria. So, this means that this nutrient is vital for the muscles that are in constant state of work. This would include the heart and brain, kidneys and liver. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
CoQ10 is also good for blood pressure control-I have seen this personally. It is also helpful in cardiovascular disease such as angina, congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy.
Foods high in CoQ10 seafood and organ meats such as kidney, liver and heart; also, the germs of whole grains. It is also synthesized by the body.
Suggested daily intake range is 30 milligrams.
Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant. It is found in nearly all of the body’s cells. It also helps to regenerate vitamin C. It is extremely useful in the liver since it is the primary organ of detoxification.
Glutathione is also important in the storage and transport of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Foods that contain glutathione are milk thistle, broccoli, avocado, spinach and asparagus.
Suggested daily intake is 100 milligram daily.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Lipoic acid is made in the cells of the body. It also increases the levels of glutathione. Lipoic acid enhances the glucose uptake into the cells so it is beneficial in diabetes.
Lipoic acid also provides protection against cataracts. Cataracts are formed by the exposure of the eye to free radicals.
Foods that contain alpha lipoic acids are broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables like collard greens or chard.
Suggested daily intake is 100 milligrams.
Finally, as the American public becomes wiser about the connections between diet and health, we may begin to see an improvement in diet related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Certainly healthful living will cut down on the usage of prescription medications and the dangerous and some times fatal side effects inherent in them.
Keep in mind that when doing meal planning, it is widely agreed that families purchase all fruits and vegetables from local farmers as the processing and shipping of foods to supermarkets causes substantial losses in the vitamin and nutrient content.
Good health to you!
References: Packer, Lester, 1999. The Antioxidant Miracle, New York, NY. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.