Every minute of every day the cells of our bodies are assaulted by particles called oxygen free radicals, also called oxidants. We can’t escape free radicals because our cells produce them during normal metabolism. Additionally, our every day environment contains an abundance of free radicals.
Unfortunately these radicals produce chain reactions that lead to damage of the DNA in our cells. The aging of our cells is partly the result of free radical damage, also called oxidation.
Fortunately there are some simple steps that we can take to minimize the damage and to promote and prolong the health of our cells.
Free radicals are molecules that have an unpaired electron. They are chemically active and can be thought of as scavengers. They easily bond with the molecules of our cells in a process called oxidation.
We are familiar with the normal oxidation process of metals such as iron. Iron oxide is called rust, and we know that rust can deteriorate the quality of the metal. Other metals also can exhibit oxidation which we generally call corrosion. We normally take steps to prevent the corrosion of metals.
Damage to our cells caused by oxidation is often called inflammation. And we can take steps to protect ourselves from cellular oxidation.
There are numerous chemical compounds that will neutralize the effects of oxidation. An antioxidant will bond with the free radical, creating a stable molecule, and prevent the radical from causing oxidation of the cell. This new molecule can then be removed during normal bodily processes.
The best known antioxidants are the nutrients, vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium. Numerous other vitamins, minerals, and enzymes perform important protective antioxidant functions.
Many of these substances, most notably the above mentioned vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium, cannot be produced by our cells but must be ingested through the foods we eat or the supplements we take.
The American Heart Association teaches us that atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes, is caused by fatty buildups in our arteries. Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is a large factor in the buildup of these fatty deposits. According to the AHA, vitamin E is the best of the naturally occurring antioxidants for providing protection against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Vitamin C is probably the most potent general free radical fighter. Its antioxidant properties are used by nearly every cell of the body. Vitamin C is a very strong immune system booster.
Here’s an interesting item from the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. A study investigated the effects of various cooking methods on broccoli. It concluded that microwave cooking depleted 97 per cent of the broccoli’s flavonoids, a major antioxidant. By contrast, steaming the broccoli depleted only 11 per cent of the same antioxidants.
How prevalent is microwave cooking in the kitchens of our homes? Dr Cristina Garcia-Viguera, co-author of the study, concluded that it is best “to cook vegetables in the minimum amount of water in order to retain their nutritional benefits.”
What To Do
To improve the health of our cells throughout our bodies, to protect our cells from the ravages of oxidation, it is essential to include a rich supply of important antioxidants in our daily diet. Two to four servings from the fruit group and three to five servings from the vegetable group daily are recommended.
If you find it difficult to consume an abundance of antioxidants from the recommended food groups, then taking daily supplements should solve the problem. Find easily digestible tablet or gel capsules from major companies or substitute good liquid supplements as a convenient and good-tasting alternative. As always, consult a physician before beginning a major new program.