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Antioxidant Special

A renegade army within our bodies—free radials—are countered by antioxidants

There’s a war going on in our bodies. Every day, countless battles are won or lost. When we lose a battle, it may result in more wrinkles or “liver spots.” When we begin to lose many battles, and the war goes badly, we open ourselves to disease. According to Richard Passwater, Ph.D., in his book Lipoic Acid, The Metabolic Antioxidant, losing this war can result in approximately 80 different age-related diseases, including cancer, heart attack, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, and Alzheimer’s disease.

This war pits free radicals against antioxidants—two substances that occur naturally in the body but are augmented by “foreign aid.” Chemicals such as drugs, food additives, and preservatives, as well as cigarette smoke, pollutants, sunlight, radiation, emotional stress, and rancid fats all contribute to the free radical army. Eating a healthy diet and supplements bolster the defending antioxidant army.

Free radicals are highly reactive forms of oxygen. As your body creates energy at the cellular level, oxygen is metabolized, changing its structure. In this process, the oxygen molecule loses one electron, turning it into a free radical.

Free radicals attack our cells. When they attack blood vessels, it contributes to cardiovascular disease. When they attack DNA in our cells (and, according to some estimates, free radicals “hit” the DNA in each cell about 10,000 times every day) it may lead to cancer. Free radicals also attack us from the outside. When ultraviolet (UV) rays strike our skin, it can result in the creation of free radicals and lead to “aging” of the skin.

Antioxidants are the defending army. They “quench” free radicals by donating an electron to them. Our bodies create antioxidants naturally, and we get them from the foods we eat and through supplements. By keeping free radicals at bay, antioxidants can influence how quickly we age and make the difference between health and disease, if not between life and death.

The Old Soldiers

     Vitamin A (beta carotene), vitamins C and E, and the mineral selenium are the original soldiers in the antioxidant army. Known as “ACES,” these antioxidants were the first to achieve recognition for contributing to our health and are acknowledged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

     Vitamin A and its plant form precursor, beta carotene, both attack singlet oxygen, a dangerous free radical that affects our eyes, skin, and lungs. Beta carotene is a proven immune booster, and is especially powerful in the elderly.

     Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant in the watery areas of the body, such as blood plasma, lung fluid, and eye fluid, as well as in between cells. It protects against such major degenerative diseases as cancer and arteriosclerosis and may slow the aging process. It also is necessary for a well-functioning immune system.

     Vitamin E is the major fat-soluble vitamin, and is known for its protection of the cell membrane. It protects against the cancer-causing effects of air pollutants such as cigarette smoke and radiation. Research shows that it also helps protect the skin, relieves symptoms of arthritis, and reduces the risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

     Selenium is an antioxidant mineral. Low blood levels of the trace mineral selenium may be linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, according to a study in the November 15, 1998, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Dr. Paul Knekt and colleagues at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, report that people with blood selenium levels in the highest third have 60 percent less risk of lung cancers. The researchers point out that selenium enhances the immune system, inhibits cell proliferation, and may have other anticarcinogenic effects.

The article "Antioxidant Special" is reproduced with the permission of AIM International
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