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Holding Back the Clock (Part 1)

Holding Back the Clock (Part 1)

How important are antioxidants in preventing premature ageing? Part 1
Published in the February 2006 Nova

By Teya Skae Holistic Kinesiologist/Lecturer

There is currently a lot of talk in the press on the subject of antioxidants and how effective they are in preventing excessive free-radical damage - or ‘oxidative stress’, as it is technically known. That being the case, it would be helpful to understand what Free-Radicals and Antioxidants are and why their interaction is so important to our health and longevity.

The rate at which we oxidise is the rate at which we age.

What do we mean by oxidise?

Oxygen is essential for basic cell-function in humans and most animals. However, research is showing that oxygen can produce toxic substances, such as peroxide, superoxide, hydroxyl radicals, and “excited stage oxygen”. These highly reactive substances combine with other molecules in the body with destructive effects. They form “free-radicals’, which are high-energy chemical substances ‘looking’ for something to combine with. This is known as free-radical damage or oxidisation.

Oxidisation occurs when an excess of oxygen in our bodies (from exercise or metabolic processes) causes the rapid production of free-radicals and the body’s supply of antioxidants is not enough to counteract this reaction, once it has started.

Research has shown that free-radical reactions in our bodies are responsible for inflammation, ageing, drug-induced damage, degenerative arthritis, alterations in immunity, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Free Radicals Are the Cause of Oxidative Stress

Some free-radicals are generated from normal body functions like breathing, metabolism, digesting polyunsaturated fats and physical activity. Others are created by the immune system to neutralize viruses and bacteria.

What Causes Free-Radicals to Form?

* Exercise, particularly aerobic or any cardiovascular exercise, produces a lot of free radicals and oxidisation.

* Eating polyunsaturated fats. (Yes, the ones that were once considered to be healthy!)

* Consuming trans-fatty acids, such as all margarines, olive oil based spreads, and heart health spreads made with polyunsaturated oils.

* Cooking with fats, particularly POLYUNSATURATED oils - and even Olive Oil. All fats oxidise, with the exception of Virgin Coconut Oil.

* Smoking.

* Alcohol.

* Lack of sleep.

* Everyday toxins (from foods, pesticides, herbicides, chemicals and additives.
* Pollution (such as petrol and exhaust fumes),
* Electro-magnetic Radiation.
* Stress - both emotional and physical

In order to fully understand how free-radicals and antioxidants interact, a brief overview of the related Physiology/Chemistry is appropriate. The human body is composed of many different types of cells. Cells are made up of many different types of molecules. Molecules consist of one or more atoms, of one or more elements, joined by chemical bonds.
Atoms are comprised of a nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons. The number of protons (positively charged particles) in the atom’s nucleus determines the number of electrons (negatively charged particles) surrounding the atom. Electrons are involved in chemical reactions and their attraction for each other forms the bonds that ‘glue’ atoms together to form molecules. Electrons surround or "orbit" an atom in one or more shells. The innermost shell is complete 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 most important structural feature of an atom for determining its chemical behaviour is the number of electrons in its outer shell. A substance that has a full outer shell is considered stable or ‘inert’, and won’t enter into chemical reactions. Because atoms ‘seek’ to reach a state of maximum stability, an atom will attempt to fill its outer shell by:
• gaining or losing electrons to either fill or empty its outer
shell
• sharing its electrons by bonding together with other atoms
in order to complete its outer shell
Often atoms complete their outer shells by sharing electrons with other atoms. By sharing electrons, the atoms bond together and fulfil the conditions for maximum stability for the molecule.

What are Free-Radicals?

Free-radicals are highly reactive molecules that are produced simultaneously when the body burns oxygen to produce energy, such as during exercise or in the process of metabolising fats. Free-radicals are single atoms with unpaired electrons, “looking for a mate”. A molecule that's missing an electron is not a happy molecule. So, rather than just accept its path of being single, it steals another electron from the first thing it encounters. As free-radicals do not have any discriminating ability, they will steal an electron from the first thing they encounter. This may be a cell wall from arteries, or a strand of DNA, or anything else it encounters in its attempt to pair up with another electron.

This process continues until two free-radicals meet and react, satisfying their lone electrons. While this provides a great outcome for the two lone electrons, their search has left a trail of destruction, causing prolific cell damage to other cells, left beyond repair.

As free-radical damage mounts, affected cells can no longer perform properly. Tissues degrade and, in time, disease sets in. An excess of free radicals has been cited in the development of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. Aging, itself, has been defined as a gradual accumulation of free-radical damage.
How can we prevent Free-Radical Damage?
There are two solutions. The first and most obvious is to avoid the causes of free-radical damage, such as by avoiding the use of all polyunsaturated fats in cooking and use saturated fats, such as virgin coconut oil, which never oxidizes. In addition, eliminate toxins from our diet and lifestyle. Yet, even if we do all these things, we will still encounter free-radical damage due to the fact that we need oxygen and we need to exercise - and that produces a lot of free radical stress. The second solution is to rely on the help of Mother Nature by obtaining ANTIOXIDANTS from our food.
Normally the body can handle free radicals but, if the supply of antioxidants is insufficient, free-radical production becomes excessive with resulting damage to cells and tissues.

What are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that come from nature, which neutralize free-radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the “electron-stealing" behaviour of the free-radicals. The antioxidant nutrients themselves don’t become free-radicals in the process of donating an electron because they are stable in either form. They act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease.

You can see antioxidants at work in your own kitchen. Slice an apple in half and watch it turn brown. That's oxidation, due to oxygen reacting with the sliced apple thus causing the action of free-radicals.
If, however, you dip the apple in lemon juice, the rate at which the apple turns brown is slowed down because the vitamin C in the lemon juice decreases the rate of oxidative damage.
Since the body cannot manufacture antioxidants, these very important molecules need to come from our diet and the right supplements.

Part 2 will examine what are the right antioxidants and how to measure their effectiveness.

References:
Nutritional Medicine Dr Stephen Davies and Dr Alan Stewart 1987.

Dr Joseph Mercola www.mercola.com
http://www.mercola.com/2001/mar/24/coconut_oil.htm

Dr Ray Peat PhD http://www.efn.org/~raypeat/
Mary G. Enig, PhD Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol, Bethesda Press, May 2000. www.enig.com/trans.html.
Mary Enig, PhD and Sally Fallon,"The Oiling of America." http://www.westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/oiling.html
Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD, The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Cause Heart Disease, New Trends Publishing, Washington, DC, 2000. More info online at: www.ravnskov.nu/cholesterol.htm
Illustrations of atoms from http://www.healthchecksystems.com/antioxid.htm
Teya Skae Holistic Kinesiologist/Lecturer
M.A., B.A., Dip Health Sciences ATMS, AKA

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