Monday, May 14, 2007

A Primer on Antioxidants

Oxidation is a natural occurrence. It happens when some atoms or molecules reacts with oxygen. Oxygen is like a magnet for electrons. Molecules whose electrons are not tightly bonded to its nucleus tends to give up an electron to the oxygen. That molecule is then said to be oxidized.

Most stable atoms and molecules have electrons that are in pairs. If one of the electrons loses its pair(becomes a free radical), their tendency is to 'steal' an electron from neighboring atoms to make itself 'whole' so to speak. This becomes the onset of a free radical chain reaction until an antioxidant is encountered.

We witness oxidation in our everyday lives: iron rusts when exposed to oxygen, meat of fruits turning brown when exposed to oxygen, meat fat getting rancid when exposed to oxygen.

We breathe oxygen and our blood distributes it to our cells giving us life and at the same time exposing our insides to possible free radical chain reactions.

The mitochondria, the energy producer of a cell, requires oxygen to manufacture energy. The process undergoes several controlled oxidation of several molecules until energy(ATP) is produced. A by-product of this process are free radicals. Heavy physical activities can multiply these by-product of free radicals several times because the cells need more oxygen to produce more energy. As the energy production grows, free radical by-product also grows.

Free radical chain reactions can damage or 'deform' healthy cells. The onset of many degenerative diseases may be caused by these damages that free radicals leave behind. Some diseases that may be caused by free radicals are Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration and even cancer.

Researchers has also discovered that cell damages caused by free radicals are one of the factors that causes aging. Minimizing free radical chain reactions can increase our average life span.

Since oxidation is a natural occurrence, our bodies are also equipped with 'defenses' for that.

Antioxidants are molecules that can give up or donate an electron to another molecule without becoming unstable or reactive. When a free radical 'steals' an electron from an antioxidant, the chain reaction stops.

Our bodies have internal antioxidants on 'stand by' to stop free radical reactions. Some of these are:

Superoxide Dismutase(SOD)



But sad to say, some internal antioxidants are produced less by our bodies as we age especially when we reach about the age of 30.

Glutathione levels can be raised by supplementing with N-Acetyl Cysteine. N-Acetyl Cysteine not only raises glutathione levels but has other properties that are really beneficial to our bodies.

CoQ10 is also better supplemented as we age. Like N-Acetyl Cysteine, it is not only a potent antioxidant but it also has other properties that benefits our bodies.

Assisting these 'internal' antioxidants, we also take in 'external' antioxidants from the food we eat like:

Vitamin C

Vitamine E

Beta Carotene(Vitamin A)

Bioflavonoids from fruits and vegetables

The food we eat may not be enough to supplement our antioxidant requirements mainly because of our eating habits. It would take quite a discipline to stick to a diet to meet our antioxidant needs.

There are also external causes that can build up free radical reactions in our body like smoking, toxic fumes, second hand smoke from smokers and radiation from sunlight. Even irregular exercise can cause free radical chain reactions.

Funny how oxygen can be life giving and at the same time life threatening. But this is the world we live in - everything has an opposite; male-female, light-dark, cold-hot, peace-war. What matters is how we deal with it.

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