What Are Antioxidants?
Anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, of great benefit with many serious health conditions, antioxidants are often written about as if they are Nature’s miracle substance. And indeed, they do work wonders for our health and quality of life. So let’s look a little closer at what they are and how they work.
Antioxidants are a family of nutrients that covers vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients and enzymes that are produced by the body and occur naturally in various foods. So far, over a hundred different types have been discovered, which all have different potencies and work in different ways in the body. On-going research is still finding new antioxidant nutrients and our understanding of just how vital they are to us grows all the time.
Antioxidants work to maintain our health and vigour throughout our life, and they do this by protecting us from the damage caused by molecules called ‘free radicals’. Free radicals can injure healthy cells and tissues, leading to damage to cell membranes, DNA and even cell death. Scientists now believe that free radical damage is a causal factor in nearly every known degenerative disease, and they are a major factor in the ageing process itself.
As the action of free radicals in the body are the raison d’être for antioxidants, it is helpful to understand a little about what they are and what they do, so let’s look at them in a little more detail.
What Are Free Radicals?
Free radicals are also called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS). These are collective terms to describe substances which have free radical or oxidative effect within the body (free radical damage is also called oxidative damage due to the part that oxygen plays in the process!). Essential as oxygen is to life, it also is a highly reactive and dangerous chemical that can wreak havoc given a chance – think about how a fire increases in response to oxygen. When oxygen becomes unstable in the body it causes oxidization, which can result in a lot of damage.
Free radicals are unstable and reactive by nature, as they have one or more unpaired electron and it is their search for a mate for this electron that makes then inherently dangerous, as they can cause a chain reaction in the body by making other molecules unstable also.
Oxygen is fuel that our body uses to turn on energy production. Free radicals are a by-product of this process and their effect has been likened to bodily nuclear waste they have the potential to be so devastating. They are generated both at the internal (or endogenous) level as well as caused from external sources (exogenous), and are a by-product of living and breathing. Internally they are generated by inflammation, stress, over-exercise, cell metabolism, immune challenges and many other everyday processes. At an external level smoking, sunbathing, solar radiation, alcohol, exposure to heavy metals and chemicals and many other forms of pollution all contribute to the free racial attack our body is under every day of the week.
Free radicals don’t have the ability to cause harm unless we lack the means to neutralise them, and all living species have evolved defences against them – the more defences a species has, the longer lifespan that species tends to have. The same is true at the individual level, the better your defences against free radical attacks the longer you will tend to live – and you will look more youthful too!
There are five major type of free radicals:
Peroxyl radicals (ORAC) – this is the most abundant free radical in the body and targets lipids. Associated with cardiovascular disease and arterial disease it damages fats which causes inflammatory conditions in the cardiovascular system.
Superoxide Anion (SORAC) – causes lipid and DNA damage. It is called the ‘mother’ of free radicals and is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension and mitochondrial diseases.
Hydroxyl Radical (HORAC)– attacks almost all macro-molecules. Deemed to be the most toxic of the free radicals it is highly reactive and dangerous. Linked to DNA damage and cancer.
Singlet Oxygen Radicals (SOAC) – can be generated in the skin by UV light and is linked to eye disease, cholesterol issues and cardiovascular problems.
Peroxynitrite Radicals (NORAC) – caused by a reaction between nitric oxide and superoxide. It is harmful to proteins such as collagen and causes cell damage. Associated with various cancers, chronic inflammatory conditions, hepatitis and neurodegenerative conditions.
So, free radicals damage our DNA, make our body proteins dysfunctional, damage lipids causing nerve problems, loss of brain cells, skin damage and coronary artery disease . They contribute to ageing, inflammation and most non-infectious diseases. They will impair the function of every cell they attack, and severe oxidative stress will kill cells fast.
Phew! They really are the enemy aren’t they! But wait a minute, not all free radicals are bad for our health – some are generated by our immune cells in response to attack by invading micro-organisms, and work to protect us. It’s when free radical production gets taken to excess we have problems.
What Can We Do to Prevent Damage?
The answer to this is simple – antioxidants!
Our bodies can adapt to moderate levels of free radicals by making more antioxidant enzymes , but increased loading caused by smoking, sun exposure, air travel, stress, pollution, poor diet and many other causes inevitably sets the stage for increasing levels of damage. The body’s defences get overridden, leading to illness, ageing and premature death. By building your defences up with supplements you can ensure this is not your fate!
Research has shown really clearly that antioxidants come in vitamin, enzyme and compound forms, and we need ALL of these for an effective defence mechanism. No single vitamin or mineral is sufficient to do the job – we need a combination of antioxidant nutrients to work in harmony at different levels in our body – some work to protect the cell membrane, some the intracellular fluid, some the mitochondria, some protect lipids, and many rely on trace elements or only function properly when combined with other nutrients.
We basically have three lines of antioxidant defence:
1st line Antioxidant enzymes. Made in the body but require small amounts of trace metals eg. selenium, zinc, manganese, copper, iron
2nd line Antioxidant micro-nutrients. Obtained from diet. eg vitamins, CoQ10, flavonoids, carotenoids etc
3rd line Antioxidant compounds. Made in the body. Eg. Melatonin, glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid etc
It is a rare person who eats a diet which provides sufficient of all these vitamins, minerals and compounds to be a highly effective shield against free radical attack. So an effective antioxidant supplement is necessary to address all these requirements. There is not a single one of us who wouldn’t benefit from taking a potent antioxidant supplement, but there are various groups where is becomes even more vital – smokers (including passive smokers) for example, those who exercise excessively, sunbathers, those who are ill or suffer from chronic conditions, those exposed to pollution or chronic stress.
How Do We Measure Antioxidant Capacity?
The industry standard for measuring antioxidant activity in foods has long been ORAC testing (oxygen radical absorption capacity). However, this only tested the effectiveness of antioxidants against the peroxyl radical. As we have seen above, there are other types of free radical that cause as much, if not more damage, than this one. A new testing method has been developed by one of the leading antioxidant laboratories in the world to address this issue. Called (Clinton, what is it???), this is now the gold standard to look for when assessing the effectiveness of supplements. This ensures that companies such as NewGen, at the cutting edge of nutritional science, can formulate supplements that target ALL types of free radicals, thereby protecting you to a much higher degree.
It really is revolutionary, and ensures that any supplement tested to these standards will be amongst the best you can buy.
Protecting Your Health
One of the simplest things you can do to help your body in the daily fight against disease, inflammation and ageing is to ensure high levels of the plethora of nutrients your body needs to build an effective, protective shield to keep you from harm. In today’s busy world we need simple effective solutions to problems like this – NewGen Superfoods Plus will give you just that!
Darley-Usmar V, Halliwell B. Blood Radicals: reactive nitrogen species, reactive oxygen species, transition metal ions and the vascular system. Pharm Res 1996, 13, 649-62; Lubec G. The hydroxyl radical: from chemistry to human disease. J InVest Med 1996, 44, 324-346; Briviba K, Lotz LO, Sies H Defences agains peroxynitrite. Methods Enzymol 1999, 301, 391-411