Understanding Anti-oxidants and Free Radicals
Apr 14, 2011 05:17PM
● By Deepti Sadhwani, MD
How many times have you heard the word “anti-oxidant” while watching TV? Commercials often discuss the benefits of a product and frequently the term “anti-oxidant” will surface followed by its nemesis, the “free radical.”
To understand the villain of this story, the free radical, we have to look at ourselves from a cellular perspective and narrow our focus to a molecular level. We will find that in a molecule of water, there are two electrons in each of the bonds that hold the hydrogen to the oxygen. The paired electrons stabilize the bonds between the atoms. Especially in molecules containing oxygen, one of the paired electrons can be “stolen” by another molecule. This condition will produce what is called a free radical, which is simply, a molecule with an unpaired electron. The new free radial will now go out and try and steal an electron from some other molecule. The process repeats itself over and over. The danger comes when a borrowed electron comes from a piece of DNA. The altered DNA may then turn on a cancer gene.
To combat free radicals anti-oxidants are needed. Anti-oxidants are compounds that protect our bodies from the damaging effects of the free radicals. Anti-oxidants are able to donate an electron to the unbalanced free radical without becoming harmful to any of the other molecules. When we are young, and as long as we eat a healthy diet, our bodies are able to produce anti-oxidants, but as we age, it is important that we provide ourselves with the necessary protection from free radical damage. Our body produces enzymatic antioxidants, but it cannot produce anti-oxidant chemicals like flavanoids or vitamins E and C. The body needs these chemicals to be constantly replenished in order to provide us with the proper protection.
The body creates free radicals and oxygen reactive species relentlessly and continuously. By definition an antioxidant is a compound that is able to react with free radicals, forming harmless unreactive molecules and protecting other biological molecules from damage. Antioxidants are either reactive chemicals such as vitamin E or specialized enzymes such as catalase. The body produces enzymatic antioxidants but it cannot make antioxidant chemicals such as vitamins E, C and flavanoids. These antioxidant chemicals protect the sites in the body which the enzymatic systems cannot reach. We obtain these antioxidant chemicals from our diet but they are rapidly turned over in the body and need to be constantly replenished.
It appears that for at least the first twenty to thirty years of our lives our bodies are well protected from free radical damage. Assuming one has a healthy diet containing fresh fruit and vegetables, the levels of antioxidant molecules and antioxidant enzymes is usually high enough to absorb most of the free radicals produced in the body. As we get older the effectiveness of these protective systems appears to slowly decrease and the damaged molecules begin to take a toll on us. Free radical damage is thought to contribute to a host of diseases such as, cancer, cardio vascular, Alzheimers, stroke and arthritis.
Fortunately for us, antioxidants are in almost all of the foods we eat. The more healthy and varied the diet you eat the more antioxidants you will get each day. Sources for anti-oxidants include: Vitamins C, E, A (as beta-carotene), CoQ10, Selenium, and Polyphenols found in naturally colorful fruits and vegetables. Eat a rainbow of foods and keep in mind that the darker the fruit or vegetable, the more antioxidant power there is.
Deepti Sadhwani, M.D. is located at Quality Health Care in Sebastian. She specializes in fighting obesity, aging and helping people reduce and eliminate the need for medication. For more information call Dr. Sadhwani at 772-581-2373.