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- Antioxidants and Free Radicals
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- CoQ10 - Q&A
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- Vitamins and Supplements For Your Age

Understanding Antioxidants and Free Radicals

How Free Radicals are Formed
Antioxidants are a class of nutrients that protect the body from damage caused by different factors, most importantly oxidative damage caused by substances called free radicals. Free radicals are known as "reactive oxygen species," or ROS. They are produced when your body uses oxygen for energy. Just as fire emits smoke as a by-product, ROS are emitted from the conversion of oxygen to energy in the human body, eventually causing oxidative damage to body systems. Free radicals are also created when the body is exposed to pollution, cigarette smoke, car exhaust and other harmful environmental toxins.

What makes a free radical a free radical? Free radical molecules are missing the electron in their atomic composition. They attack other molecules and attempt to steal their electrons, thus creating another free radical. This oxidation process continues until key biological molecules and even genes become permanently damaged from electron loss, lowering the immune systems response to disease and adversely affecting other body systems. Scientists now believe this process is also responsible for the body's decline as we age. Over time, if left unchecked, free radicals cause oxidative damage to a wide range of tissues, organs and body systems, slowly damaging more molecules and decreasing immune response. Theoretically, this is why the elderly are so much more fragile and susceptible to disease, much more so than their younger counterparts.

How Antioxidants Prevent Free Radical Damage

Antioxidants are natural substances found in plants, which help strengthen cells and therefore prevent disease, boost immunity, slow aging and improve overall health.

Cells, like everything else, are composed of many different types of molecules and molecules are made up of one or more atoms of one or more basic elements (like carbon, oxygen, etc). They are joined by chemical bonds. As you might know from high school science, atoms have a nucleus (centre), neutrons (electrically neutral particles), protons (positively charged particles) and electrons (negatively charged particles). The number of protons in an atom’s nucleus determines the number of electrons (negatively charged particles) you will find surrounding the atom. Electrons are involved in chemical reactions and they hold atoms together to form molecules. Electrons surround, or orbit an atom in one or more shells.

The innermost shell is full when it has two electrons. When the first shell is full, electrons begin to fill the second shell. When the second shell has eight electrons, it is full, and so on. The number of electrons in an atom’s outer shell is key to its chemical behaviour. If it has a full outer shell, it will not usually react chemically with other substances - it is stable or inert. Atoms want to be stable and they will try to fill the outer shell with electrons by:

  • gaining or losing electrons to fill or empty the outer shell
  • sharing electrons by bonding together with other atoms (forming new molecules).

The number of electrons gained or lost is unique for each element, and this number determines how many different types of chemical bonds atoms of that element can form. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the electron-stealing chain reaction. Antioxidant nutrients do not become free radicals by donating an electron because they are stable either way. They help prevent cell and tissue damage that can lead to health problems and disease.

There are different types of antioxidants, and most work better when paired with other antioxidants. Vitamins can be antioxidants, such as Vitamins C and E. The tripeptide glutathione, loosely classified as an amino acid, acts as an antioxidant, along with other true amino acids such as methionine. The raw herbs and vegetables we consume contain natural antioxidants called bioflavonoids and carotenoids, which are effective antioxidants on their own, but are more effective when synergistically combined with other antioxidants. Together these nutrients protect your cells from electron robbery at the hands of larcenous free radicals, protecting the body from disease and slowing the inevitable signs of aging.

  • Vitamin E (Fat Soluble) – Vitamin E is one of the most effective antioxidants for supporting normal cardiovascular function.
  • Vitamin C (Water Soluble) –One of the most versatile of all antioxidants, Vitamin C supports the body’s entire antioxidant defence system by helping natural antioxidant enzymes perform at their best and regenerating Vitamin E, requiring less dietary intake. Usually recommended for the common cold, Vitamin C should be taken year-round, especially if you smoke or are exposed to pollutants on a daily basis.
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid (Water & Fat Soluble) – known as the "universal antioxidant," alpha lipoic acid (ALA) can go anywhere in the body because of its solubility in both water and fat. It conserves and prolongs the life of Vitamins C and E, increasing their effectiveness. Without ALA, these antioxidants would not function as well. ALA is also an excellent metal detoxifier, particularly for mercury and cadmium. We are exposed to these toxic metals daily through car exhaust and cigarette smoke. ALA binds them and neutralizes them for excretion.
  • Zinc (Water Soluble) – Many of us think of a metal when we think of zinc, but this mineral plays an essential role in the proper functioning of many body systems, most notably the immune system. Zinc increases T-lymphocytes, one of the substances produced by the immune system to fight infection and has been shown to speed wound healing.
  • Selenium (Water Soluble) – Selenium is another excellent antioxidant nutrient with a specialized function  it is required for the production of glutathione peroxidase, a powerful free radical scavenging enzyme that works in conjunction with the tripeptide glutathione.
  • Coenzyme Q10 (Fat Soluble) – CoQ10 plays an important role as an antioxidant in the body. Like Vitamin E, CoQ10 is especially helpful for supporting cardiovascular health. But it can also stimulate the production of antibodies whose levels decline as we age. CoQ10 is required for the production of ATP or "cellular energy." As CoQ10 levels decline with age, so too does the body’s production of ATP and certain immune system antibodies. CoQ10 supplementation later in life is essential for optimum body function.
  • Grape Seed Extract (Water Soluble) – A class of compounds found in grape seeds, proanthocyanidins have powerful free radical scavenging capabilities and work synergistically with other antioxidants like Vitamin C to support immune system function.
  • Lycopene (Fat Soluble) – Recent research has uncovered a carotenoid in tomatoes that gives them their red color and health benefits – Lycopene. This carotenoid works in conjunction with other antioxidants to eliminate free radicals in the body.
  • Lutein (Fat Soluble) – Another carotenoid that gives certain vegetables their dark green pigment, Lutein has enjoyed growing popularity in recent years. Research has shown that lutein protects the macular region of the eye from age-related decline, or macular degeneration.

ORAC value

The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC value of foods, is a measurement of antioxidant levels. The higher the ORAC value, the more antioxidant power a food has. Berry ORAC values top those of many other fruits and vegetables, including oranges, grapefruit, cherries, plums, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

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