This is an introductory article on Anti-oxidants. In order to grasp the role of anti-oxidants within the body, it is important to understand Free Radicals and their relationship with Anti-oxidants.
Research links Free Radicals with a variety of degenerative diseases, ranging from arthritis, circulatory diseases and emphysema to asthma, allergies and eczema.Free Radicals are vital in the body’s energy production processes and are hence essential to every activity of life from movement and growth to the resistance of disease and infection and the transmission of nervous impulses.
The role of Free Radicals in Metabolism
We need to first look a little at the chemical make-up of the body. The body is comprised of cells consisting of molecules. Molecules are comprised of atoms containing electrons. A stable (neutral) molecule contains pairs of electrons. Where a molecule has one or more unpaired electrons, it is electrically unstable and is known as a free oxygen radical.Energy is produced in minute structures within the cell called mitochondria. Metabolism occurs where, in an effort to balance its electrical charge, a free radical grabs an electron from another molecule. Hence, when an electron is removed from one molecule (or oxidised) and added to another (or reduced), energy is created. The energy is then stored in enzymes called ATP and is ready for release as required.
Free Radicals on the Loose
Although Free Radicals are essential to life, without adequate control, they will escape from the mitochondria and then start to attack the tissue of cell membranes and proteins in an attempt to regain their “complete” form. This can result in a chain of oxidation, damaging up to 200,000 molecules.The results of damage to cell membranes (the damage is known as peroxidation) can be quite devastating, including an accumulation of toxic waste products in the cells, a reduction of electrical potential, a decline in vitality, an inability to repair itself effectively and a reduction in the efficiency of the immune system.
Surplus of Free Radicals
Although a certain number of Free Radicals are naturally present in the body, their production can be increased by today’s modern lifestyle and environmental factors such as sunlight and pollution. Over-eating, emotional stress or illness, cigarette smoke, poor nutrition, radiation and ultra-violet light can all lead to over-production of Free Radicals, resulting in an accumulation of toxic residues in our body tissues.American scientist, Elmer Granton MD, reports in the Journal of Holistic Medicine:
“When Free Radicals in living tissues exceed safe levels, the result is cell destruction, malignant mutation, tumour growth, damage to enzymes and inflammation. These are manifested clinically as age-related, chronic degenerative diseases. Each uncontrolled Free Radical has a potential to multiply a million-fold. Yet when functioning properly, our Anti-oxidant systems suppress excessive Free Radical reactions.”
Anti-oxidants, Nutrition and Disease
The enzymes which deactivate and destroy Free Radicals include catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase. They are heavily dependent upon anti-oxidants which are found in natural foods.
Research has shown the importance of nutrition in fighting disease; Danish Researchers at the Institute of Hygiene in Arhus found that sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis had low Anti-oxidant levels and that supplements of Selenium with Vitamins C & E were helpful (source: Biology Trace Elements Research 1990).There is a strong relationship between heart disease and Vitamins C & E. In “The Lancet” September ’91, a report stated that men most at risk from angina had low levels of Vitamins C, E and betacarotene in their blood.
So those in the past who have used fresh, raw foods to treat a staggering range of illness including cancer, were in fact harnessing the power of anti-oxidants present in these foods. The Swiss Dr Bircher-Benner who persuaded his reluctant patients to eat raw fruit by disguising it with Muesli and the German doctor Max Gerson who used a tough regime based on raw foods as a highly successful treatment for cancer, were in fact working on the principle only recently accepted medically, that given the right tools, the body will heal itself.
Anti-oxidant power can also be enhanced simply by eating less and eating better quality food. By cutting the metabolic rate in this way, the activity of free radicals is reduced.
This brings us to the use of anti-oxidants against a world-wide range of diseases.
The following are anti-oxidants: Vitamin A, Beta-Carotene, Vitamin B group, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Zinc, Selenium and Potassium.We will look at each of these in turn in subsequent issues, and in particular, their anti-oxidant properties.
However, see the table below for food sources:
|Vitamin A (or Beta Carotene)
||Milk, butter, eggs, liver, fish, fish oils, carrots, watercress, spinach, darker outer leaves of cabbage, lettuce, kale, broccoli, corn, cherries, water melon, apricots, peaches
|Vitamin B Group (especially B1, B2, B3, B5, B6)
||Whole cereals including brown rice, oats, wholemeal wheat germ, bread, molasses, brewer’s yeast, split peas, soy-beans, sunflower seeds, ham, beef, offal especially liver, eggs
||All fruits, especially citrus, blackcurrants, strawberries, papaya, tomatoes, all vegetables – especially green pepper. Watercress, milk, chicken liver, fresh fruit, vegetable juices
||Cold-pressed oils, whole cereals including brown rice, oats, wholemeal bread/wheatgerm, parsley, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, outer cabbage leaves, nuts, seeds, eggs, corn, carrots
||Meats, especially liver, fish, especially shellfish, lentils, green leafy vegetables, whole cereals, including wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, cheese, milk, nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds.
||Whole cereals including wheat germ, meats especially offal, vegetables, fruits, milk, garlic, nuts, cold-pressed oils, eggs, a few types of brewer’s yeast.
|Protein (building blocks of protein are amino acids, of which cysteine, methionene and glutathione are antioxidants)
||Milk, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, cereals and grains, nuts and seeds, peas, beans, lentils, some in other plant foods.