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Antioxidants and Free Radicals

Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that are created in the body during normal metabolic functions or introduced from the environment. Free radicals are inherently unstable, since they contain “extra” energy. To reduce their energy load, free radicals react with certain chemicals in the body, and in the process, interfere with the cells’ ability to function normally. In fact, free radicals are believed to play a role in more than sixty different health conditions, including the aging process, cancer, and atherosclerosis. Reducing exposure to free radicals and increasing intake of antioxidant nutrients has the potential to reduce the risk of free radical-related health problems.

Oxygen, although essential to life, is the source of the potentially damaging free radicals. Free radicals are also found in the environment. Environmental sources of free radicals include exposure to ionizing radiation (from industry, sun exposure, cosmic rays, and medical X-rays), ozone and nitrous oxide (primarily from automobile exhaust), heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, and lead), cigarette smoke (both active and passive), alcohol, unsaturated fat, and other chemicals and compounds from food, water, and air.

Antioxidants work in several ways: they may reduce the energy of the free radical, stop the free radical from forming in the first place, or interrupt an oxidizing chain reaction to minimize the damage caused by free radicals.

The body produces several enzymes, including superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione peroxidase, that neutralize many types of free radicals. Supplements of these enzymes are available for oral administration. However, their absorption is probably minimal at best. Supplementing with the “building blocks” the body requires to make SOD, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase may be more effective. These building block nutrients include the minerals manganese, zinc, and copper for SOD and selenium for glutathione peroxidase.

In addition to enzymes, many vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants in their own right, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, vitamin B2, coenzyme Q10, and cysteine (an amino acid). Herbs, such as bilberry, turmeric (curcumin), grape seed or pine bark extracts, and ginkgo can also provide powerful antioxidant protection for the body.

Consuming a wide variety of antioxidant enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and herbs may be the best way to provide the body with the most complete protection against free radical damage.

Antioxidants which is available (in a form of Vitamin E - Omega3 and 6 (alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)) in Flaxseed, Linseed, Canola, Olive and Fish oil.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cell membranes and other fat-soluble parts of the body, such as LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), from damage. Only when LDL is damaged does cholesterol appear to lead to heart disease, and vitamin E is an important antioxidant protector of LDL. Several studies, including two double-blind trials, have reported that 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E per day reduces the risk of heart attacks. However, other recent double-blind trials have found either limited benefit, or no benefit at all from supplementation with synthetic vitamin E. One of the negative trials used 400 IU of natural vitamin E —a similar amount and form to previous successful trials. In attempting to make sense of these apparently inconsistent findings, the following is clear: less than 400 IU of synthetic vitamin E, even when taken for years, does not protect against heart disease. Whether 400 to 800 IU of natural vitamin E is, or is not, protective remains unclear.

Vitamin E also plays some role in the body’s ability to process glucose. Some, but not all, trials suggest that vitamin E supplementation may eventually prove to be helpful in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

In the last ten years, the functions of vitamin E in the cell have been further clarified. In addition to its antioxidant functions, vitamin E is now known to act through other mechanisms, including direct effects on inflammation, blood cell regulation, connective tissue growth, and genetic control of cell division.