Toxins, Free Radicals and Antioxidants
by Jack Kettler
It is a frightening fact that we live in a toxic environment! No matter where we live or how careful we are, it is very difficult to escape or avoid environmental toxins. Why? Toxins are in the air we breathe, the food we eat and in the water we drink. Particularly troubling are the high levels of pesticides in our homes, and food supply that are substantially higher than levels we are exposed to in an open-air environment. To make matters worse, unless we have superior water filters in our homes, we are being exposed to many additional toxins even including prescription medicines that are flushed down toilets and then make it into the city water supply and then into our homes.
In fact, an Associated Press investigation shows that millions of Americans have been exposed to a huge array of pharmaceuticals drugs. These include antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, sex hormones that have been found in the drinking water supplies that come into our homes. To be sure, these are small amounts that make into our home drinking water. But how much does it take to adversely affect us and begin to accelerate cellular damage and other problems?
What are Free Radicals and Should We be Alarmed?
Free radicals are unstable chemicals formed in the body during metabolism (a biological process) or exposure to environmental toxins such as pollutants that unfortunately are common in air, food and water. It should be noted that not all free radical activity is bad. For example, free radicals help our bodies to generate energy and fight infections, but when we have too many free radicals they can attack healthy cells causing them to age prematurely. Using the comparison of the activity of a rusting process is probably the best way to understand how free radicals damage our bodies.
If allowed to go unchecked, free radicals can cause damage to the body's cells just like the process in which metal is broken down or disintegrates as it rusts. Likewise, some of these cells affected are those that line the arteries, fat cells in the blood, the immune cells and many more can all be subjected to this adverse free radical activity. Free radical damage (or oxidation) has been linked to the onset of every degenerative disease known, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and even the very aging process itself. Why is this so?
Free radical damage changes or mutates the body's DeoxyriboNucleic Acid (DNA) and RiboNucleic Acid (RNA) cellular blueprint coding by pairing with electrons in the DNA chains, ultimately leading to cellular electronic discombobulation or imbalance. This resulting confusion of the DNA and RNA blueprint coding or pairing will occur as mutated cells reproduce abnormally. This happens because of the subsequent cellular miss-communication in our bodies. In some cases, excess free radical damage can cause DNA messages to accelerate the cell division process into a state of disarray or confusion whereby the DNA is unable to withstand the rate of oxidation that then causes cellular retrogression. It is believed that this cellular break down or degeneration leads to the on-set of many diseases and as noted in the aging process itself. A real concern is that at the same time as the acceleration of free radical damage, our intake of antioxidants (which can inhibit this damage) is decreasing.
What are Antioxidants and What can be Done?
The book titled the Antioxidant Miracle by Lester Packer and Carol Colman is a excellent place to start in a search for solutions to the above mentioned problems. This is the first popular book to reveal the full range of the healthful benefits of antioxidants, which have been described as "nature's secret weapon." This ground breaking book unveils the amazing ability of antioxidants to help in the battle against free radical damage. The Antioxidant Miracle show how the combination of Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Lipoic Acid, Co Q10, and Glutathione (what some now believe to be the body's master antioxidant) when taken together in the proper amounts allow the body to battle free radical damage far more effectively than when each of these supplements are taken individually. A nutritional synergy of activity is superior to the independent activity of isolated nutrients. A word of caution: it is thought that too many or the wrong combination of antioxidants can lead to the nutrients canceling themselves out or having a negative affect. You don't want to mega dose with ever antioxidants you can find.
Exactly how do Antioxidants Work?
An antioxidant is a molecule capable of inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation produces free radicals. Then, these radicals it is believed can start chain reactions that cause cellular damage. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing the free radicals that cause or inhibit other oxidation reactions. Antioxidants can and do act to reduce or slow down the oxidation process. Antioxidants then are powerful agents for good in our bodies.
How do we Get Them?
Antioxidants are nutrients that occur naturally in our food which can prevent or slow down oxidative damage to our bodies. Antioxidants are also widely used as ingredients in dietary supplements and have been investigated for the prevention of diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease and even slowing down the aging process. Thankfully, there is another class of helpful nutrients, called phytonutrients, which come from plant sources. Among other numerous benefits, phytonutrients also act as antioxidants and help form the body's defense against free radical damage to cells. Phytonutrients can be absorbed directly from our food supply intake or be obtained in many different dietary supplements.
In summary; nutritional science is showing that antioxidants act as free radical scavengers and prevent and repair damage done by the free radicals. Any nutritional agent that can inhibit and also repair oxidative damage is good thing and should be in our arsenal of nutritional defense.
Why Should We Use Supplements?
Green harvesting and soil depletion are factors that prevent us from getting healthy, nutrient rich plants in our food supply. In addition, consider the complexity how our bodies work and why we need a constant source of good nutritional intake.
To start, our stomach lining is replaced every few days or so. Our bones are replaced every 7 to 10 years. Other bodily organ cells are replaced much quicker than our bones. In the case of our red blood cells, they are replaced every 120 days. Without the correct nutrient intake in our diets every day, our body's systems can become compromised by cellular structure and function problems during the cellular formation process. This largely due to inadequate nutritional intake. The raw materials that make up our cells are nutritional building blocks.
It is amazing that every second, 2 million red blood cells are replaced in our bodies. If the correct complement of nutrients is not available in our body at that very second when new cells are formed then those cells can be made incorrectly. This may lead to the further malfunction of our bodies because the structure and function of our cells will not normal due to lack of the nutrient raw materials that our bodies require on demand for optimal cellular formation. Our blood supply should be saturated with the whole range of required or essential nutrients for the optimal cellular structure formation process. If the cellular structure is normal, then the cells will function correctly. This is a major goal of nutritional supplementation and good eating practices.
Since our food chain is depleted of many of the essential nutrients required for proper cellular organ function. And, because of the ongoing exposure to toxins and resulting free radical oxidative damage, we need to ensure that we have the complete range of essential nutrients in our bodies at the time new cells are formed. It seems prudent therefore to investigate which are the most important supplements for our nutritional needs that we can obtain. Antioxidants have been show in this brief article to be of utmost importance because of their ability to inhibit and even repair free radical damage. Additionally, there are other categories of nutrients that cannot be ignored.
Categories of Important Nutrients:
Antioxidants (Repair and Prevent Free Radical Damage)
Monosaccharides (Plant Sugars or Carbohydrates for Cellular Communication)
Phytosterols (Plant Hormones for Hormonal Support)
Vitamins and Minerals (Immune System Support)
Phytochemicals (Antioxidant Support, Enzyme Boosting Activity and Cellular Nutrition)
Fatty Acids (Good Fats, Cellular Fuel Source)
Amino Acids (Proteins Building Blocks)
The nutrients in the above categories can be found in the required amounts in many dietary supplements. See my article titled: Bio-Chemical Individuality: towards an understanding of which nutritional supplements should be taken and, how many and for how long. This article can be found online at: http://www.undergroundnotes.com/nutrition.htm