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Larry Newman is the Chief Operating Officer, Technical and Regulatory Affairs of Kirkman Group, Inc. (Kirkman). Contact Kirkman at 1-800-245-8282; 6400 Rosewood St., Lake Oswego, OR.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Importance of Antioxidants for Oxidative Stress

By Larry Newman

Our bodies constantly react with oxygen as we breathe and as our cells produce energy.  This oxygen activity has its consequences because during this process, highly reactive molecules are produced known as free radicals.  These free radicals then interact with other molectules within our cells causing oxidative damage to proteins, membrances, genetic material and other cell components.  External factors such as pollution, sunlight, chemicals, heavy metals and other impurities we encounter or ingest also trigger the production of free radicals.  This whole process of oxidation and free radical production is known as oxidative stress.  Evidence is convincing that oxidative stress im imprilicated in many diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's disease and heart disease and also has an impact on the body's aging process.

It is important to minimize oxidative stress damage by consuming antioxidants that retard the process.  Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals.  The body produces an array of antioxidants to defend itself against these free radicals.  Selected foods we eat also contain a variety of antioxidants including vitamins, minerals and enzymes that also aid in quenching and destroying the free radicals.  Certain fruits and vegetables also contain certain nutrients that are powerful antioxidants. 
Many of the vitamins and minerals we consume from food or nutritional supplements have antioxidant properties.  These include:

    Specialty dietary supplements that target antioxidant activity are also available and include:
      Tomatoes contain a pigment called lycopene that gives the plant its red color.  Lycopene is a very powerful antioxidant, so consuming tomato-based products such as canned tomatoes, tomato sauces, tomato soup or juice and even ketchup will provide your body with antioxidant activity.  Lycopene is also present in watermelon in highly concentrated quantities.  Additionally, lycopene is available as a dietary supplement.
      Lutein is a carotenoid type antioxidant found in green leafy vegetables that has been recently implicated in preventing or lessening the severity of macular eye degeneration.  It too is available as a supplement. 

      Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes are extremely high in antioxidant activity because they contain natural substances such as carotenoids, flavonoids, terpenes and coumarins, all of which offer good free radical protection.

      Certain members of the berry family contain powerful antioxidants as well including cranberries, blueberries, elderberries, acai, black currants and grapes, all of which contain high concentrations of anthocyanins, which possess high antioxidant activity.  Grapes also contain another powerful antioxidant called resveratrol that is getting a lot of interest as of late.  Resveratrol is the component of red wine that is thought to be the healthy component that, along with the abundant flavonoid polyphenols also present, helps contribute to the fact that the French suffer a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease despite having a diet rich in saturated fats.  More research is necessary to prove this correlation. 

      When it comes to antioxidant activity, the described compounds work more powerfully as a group rather than separately.  Combining the vitamins, minerals, specialty supplements and foods provide a far greater benefit as a result of the antioxidants working synergistically together.  It is not necessary to take all of the aforementioned products to get this beneficial effect.  You can pick and choose those that fit into your dietary habits and supplement regimen. 

      It is impossible for us to avoid all damage by free radicals because they arise both inside and outside of our bodies.  By utilizing the protective effect of antioxidants, however, one can feel comfortable with the fact that research shows that people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants, fruits and vegetables are less likely to get certain diseases. 

      Individuals with special dietary requirements and individuals with special needs often have elevated oxidative stress.  There are laboratory markers which measure levels of antioxidant compounds present in the body.  Talk to your doctor about appropriate testing and subsequent supplementation with antioxidants.