Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Oxygen may be hazardous to your health. We can’t live without oxygen, of course. But just as exposure to oxygen causes iron to rust and butter to go rancid, it can wreak it’s own havoc in the body.

Free radicals are the culprits. They are created every minute in our bodies. To provide energy, the body’s cells use oxygen to burn fuels and in the process, some oxygen molecules may lose an electron, thus creating a free radical. There’s no problem when these free radicals are captured and inactivated by the body’s own army of antioxidants.

Trouble arises, however, when free radicals outnumber antioxidants. This can happen with environmental factors, like cigarette smoke, pollution, excessive sunlight, pesticides, alcohol, stress and even exercise.

Unchecked, free radicals roam and attack the healthy cells of the body causing them to lose structure and function. Over time, consequences include atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis and inflammatory diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel and colitis.

You can fight back! Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent damage to the body’s cells. Your best defense begins with a well-balanced diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables and fruit. Darker green and more vibrant colors equate to higher antioxidant content. At least 5 servings a day will give you the upper hand.

Vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene are among the most widely studied dietary antioxidants. Acting as an antioxidant, vitamin C protects LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. Recommended dosages vary but suggest a minimum of 120-200 mg/day.

Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant protecting cell membranes and other fat soluble parts of the body from free radical damage. The most commonly recommended amounts are 400-800 IU/day. The d-alpha tocopherol (natural form) is preferred over the dl-alpha tocopherol (synthetic form).

Beta carotene and other carotenoids provide antioxidant protection to lipid rich tissues. It may work synergistically with vitamin E. The most common supplement intake is approximately 25,000 IU per day. The jury is still out on whether the synthetic or natural form is preferred. The natural form can be identified when it lists the source as D. salina, algal source, palm source or as “natural beta carotene”. The synthetic form can be identified as “beta carotene”.

Antioxidants are our first line of defense against free radical damage and are critical to optimum health and well-being. The best way to defend the body against free radical attack is through a varied and balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and by insuring extra protection from anti-oxidant supplementation.

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