Discover the Power of
Healing Foods! Newsletter
Issue #003

Wed 19 Dec 2012


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Free Radicals and Antioxidants -
The Never Ending War

Welcome to the 3rd issue of Discover The Power of Healing Foods! newsletter.

In this issue we will discuss:

What Are Free Radicals?

I must admit, I've read countless explanations of what free radicals are, but I've struggled to find one that would make sense without being too technical. I hope you'll find the following explanation easy to understand.

Free radicals are not foreign invaders, like viruses and bacteria, but they are very much the result of natural processes taking place in our bodies.

All the cells of our body need oxygen to be able to function, but this process also creates atoms, molecules and fragments of molecules that are called free radicals. So does the burning of glucose in your body cells.

There's many different types of free radicals produced by the body in the normal course of energy production and cell functioning. Some of them are even useful. Free radicals produced by the immune system, for example, destroy viruses and bacteria.

Free radicals are also created by exposure to polluted air, toxic chemicals, radiation, ultraviolet rays, tobacco smoke and car exhausts.

You might wonder, if free radicals are naturally occurring molecules in the body, then why are they a problem?

If you're interested in the technical bit, read on, otherwise skip to the antioxidants section.
free radicals 'steal' electrons from other molecules

All atoms consist of electrons spinning round a nucleus and generally speaking, these electrons are paired, which is a chemically 'stable' arrangement.

An electron becomes a free radical when it's unpaired, as it can easily bond with other atoms or molecules by 'grabbing' an electron from them - setting off a damaging chemical reaction and creating more free radicals.

We can't underestimate the threat that free radicals pose to our health and well-being.

Scientists now believe that free radicals are a major factor in nearly every known disease, from heart disease to arthritis to cancer to cataracts. In fact, free radicals are a major culprit in the aging process itself.

They are not always what causes the initial problem, but they certainly can aggravate it.

Free radical damage can:

  • Exacerbate inflammation in the joints (rheumatoid and osteo arthritis).
  • Oxidize the cholesterol in your blood (leading to heart disease).
  • Damage our eyes (leading to cataracts and blindness).
  • Degrade the DNA in your body cells, which can either kill them or turn them cancerous.
  • Is deeply involved in most major non-infectious diseases and inflammation.
  • Play a major role in gingivitis, asthma, Alzheimer's, pancreatitis and ulcerative colitis.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons.

Now, if our bodies worked perfectly, we wouldn't have anything to worry about. Our bodies may create free radicals, but, under the right conditions, they also manufacture antioxidants to block their effects.

If we lived in the right environment, without pollution, radiation or anything else that created any added free radicals, or if our diets weren't adding to the free radical load but actually gave us plenty of ammunition to fight them, then we would be alright.

But unfortunately, both our bodies and the environment we live in are far from perfect and create a huge amount of free radicals. This means that our antioxidants resources may not be sufficient to stave off the assault and we may buckle under the attack.

So it's essential to make sure that our bodies have sufficient antioxidants reserves to protect us against free-radical attacks.

Some of the antioxidants made by our bodies are enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), methionine reductase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase. Others are hormones, such as melatonin.

For the body to be able to manufacture these essential antioxidants, it needs a rich supply of the right nutrients, which have to come from our diet.

The right diet can also provide antioxidants already made. Where do you think we can find the most antioxidants? You might have guessed, fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of natural antioxidants, particularly vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene that gets transformed into vitamin A in the body.

antioxidants donate their own electrons to other molecules

How do these antioxidants work? By donating their own electrons, antioxidants stabilize free radicals and therefore stop them from doing any further damage. They sacrifice themselves in the all-out fight against these dangerous enemies and in an effort to protect us.

By controlling free radicals, antioxidants can make the difference between life and death, as well as influence how fast and how well we age.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating that those of us who eat a diet rich in antioxidants and take antioxidant supplements will live longer.

But you shouldn't wait until you're already ill or old to reverse their effects. Much of the damage they cause is irreversible. You must start in your 20's and 30's or even in your 40's - the sooner the better.

Isn't it much better to keep your body young and disease-free than needing repair later?

How Can Antioxidants Protect You?

(I will consider only four antioxidants in this newsletter, otherwise you'll be reading forever. I'll discussed a few more in my next issue)

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant that also recharges other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, to keep them potent.

Eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and taking vitamin C (in higher doses than in a multivitamin) can cut chances of death from all causes by 42%, according to studies.

A Harvard study of 90,000 female nurses found that those who took 350 to 400 mg of vitamin C supplements daily for 16 years were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or other "coronary event" that non-vitamin C takers. Getting smaller amounts didn't prevent heart disease.

Taking 500 mg. of vitamin C daily reduced blood pressure in type 2 diabetics, finds an Irish study.

Supplements of vitamin C stimulate formation of collagen and bone, suggest research at the University of California - San Diego. Postmenopausal women with the highest bone mineral density took 1,000 mg. or more of vitamin C a day.

Another study showed that women taking vitamin C supplements cut their risk of cataracts by 77%.

Taking a daily dose (55 mg.) of vitamin C reduced blood levels of C-reactive protein (CPR), a marker of inflammation, by 24%.

Foods rich in Vitamin C:

citrus fruits, kiwis, mangos and papayas are rich in vitamin C
  • asparagus
  • avocados
  • berries
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cantaloupe
  • most citrus fruits
  • collards
  • dandelion greens
  • kale
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • onions
  • papaya
  • pineapple
  • potatoes
  • turnips

Please Note:

It's very difficult to get these amounts of vitamin C, as well as any of the other antioxidants, from the diet alone. This is why it's of the utmost importance to make every mouthful of food count.

You can't afford to eat processed and fast food and so called 'empty' calories, and still expect to enjoy optimum health!

Also, fruit and vegetables are often grown on nutrient-deficient soils. As they're very poor in minerals and phytonutrients themselves how can they provide us with all the nutrients we need?

This is why it's often essential to add antioxidants supplements to our diet. They can't substitute for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but they can help us to cover the shortfall and provide more antioxidant power to help us in our fight against free radicals.


Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that prevents the oxidation of lipids (fats). Fat oxidation has been implicated in the process that leads to atherosclerosis.

A daily dose of 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) cut subsequent heart attacks in men with heart problems by an astonishing 77% in British research at Cambridge University.

Taking 200 IU of natural vitamin E boosted immune functioning in older people, according to a Tufts University research. A supplement with only 60 IU of vitamin E didn't improve immune functioning.

You're less likely to die of bladder cancer if you take vitamin E long term (for more than 10 years), says a study by the American Cancer Society. Again, taking the vitamin for a shorter time didn't affect bladder cancer mortality.

Foods rich in vitamin E include:

dark green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts, and whole grains are rich on vitamin E
  • avocados
  • cold-pressed vegetable oils
  • fortified cereals
  • legumes
  • nuts (particularly almonds and hazelnuts)
  • spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • sunflower seeds
  • sweet potatoes
  • wheat germ
  • whole grains

Selenium

The body needs selenium to produce a critical antioxidant enzyme called gluthathione peroxidase that helps detoxify free radicals in cellular fat that otherwise lower immunity, foster cancer and destroy arteries.

A daily 100 mcg. of selenium improved immune functioning and mood in several studies.

Selenium works synergistcally with vitamin E to protect tissues and cell membranes, aid in the production of antibodies and help maintain a healthy heart and liver. Additional studies have shown that when combined with zinc and vitamin E promotes prostate health.

The selenium content of food can vary widely depending on the soil content of this mineral. Most of the soil in American farmland, for example, is low in selenium, resulting in selenium-deficient produce.

No wonder then, that people are suffering from a deficiency of this important mineral. To ensure an adequate intake it may be necessary to take selenium supplements - 200 mcg. daily is a typical recommended dose.

In a study of 1,312 older people taking 200 mcg of selenium daily for seven years, it was found that overall cancer rates had dropped by 42% and cancer death rates in half!

Food sources of selenium include:

selenium rich foodsinclude seafood, liver, wheat germ and Brazil nuts
  • seafood
  • liver
  • garlic
  • onions and leeks
  • asparagus
  • broccoli
  • kelp
  • wheat germ
  • brown rice
  • Brazil nuts
  • brewer's yeast
  • whole grains

Zinc

The main antioxidant function of zinc is in the prevention of fat oxidation. Zinc is needed for proper maintenance of vitamin E levels in the blood and aids in the absorption of vitamin A.

It plays an important role in the health of the reproductive organs, is essential to prostate function and assists in shrinking already enlarged prostates.

A Mayo Clinic study found that older women who took various supplements were less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Specifically, taking vitamin C or vitamin E cut the risk by 30%. Taking zinc slashed risk by over 60%!


Dietary sources of zinc include:

zinc-rich foods include oysters, organ meat, eggs, nuts and seeds
  • Animal proteins, such as organ meats, seafood (especially oysters and sardines), milk, poultry and eggs.
  • Plant sources include mushrooms, soybeans, sunflower seeds and wheat germ.


Putting It All Together

How can you make sure you eat plenty of these foods rich in antioxidants?

This is my advice:

  • Every day you could aim for 1 fruit salad, trying to include as many of the fruits mentioned as you can. You can have it for breakfast, with some yogurt and nuts, as a snack or a dessert.
  • Then, try to have 1 green salad every day. What to include? Choose as many of the green leafy vegetables that you can find in season, add some salad onions, peppers, red or black beans, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, and a splash of olive oil and apple cider vinegar.
  • Then you must have some lightly cooked or steamed vegetables with your main meal. Again, have a variety of them, the more colourful the better.


What You Need To Do

Take a moment to consider how many fruits and vegetables you eat every day. For optimum health, you should consider eating 2 to 4 servings of fruit and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables every day. Do you get near that amount? If not, make a conscious effort to increase your intake and to do so on a regular basis.

Also consider adding some supplements, if you think you could benefit from an extra intake of antioxidants. I put a few together on another page.

In this newsletter I've only mentioned four of the most well-known antioxidants but I'm sure you've been able to see how much we could benefit by taking in a regular supply of these antioxidants through the foods they're found in and also with supplements, if we want to increase their potential.

Coming Next...

I hope you have enjoyed reading this newsletter. I couldn't possibly discuss all the antioxidants in this one newsletter, there's far too many to do justice to each one of them.

So I 've decided to discuss a few more in my next newsletter. Specifically, I'll be discussing the roles of vitamin A and the carotenoids as well as a few of the phytochemicals, so important for our health and well-being.

You don't want to miss it!

Also, if this newsletter has raised some questions in your mind about antioxidants or you'd like specific information on them, don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

The next issue will be sent out on Wed 16th January 2013.

Until Next Time,

Aurora Raisbeck

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