May 2001 Ageless herbal newsletter
Much is said about antioxidants, but in a recent survey conducted, we found that although most people are familiar with the term "antioxidant", few really knew what they are, and why we need them for optimum health.
Antioxidants should be of interest to people wishing to keep looking as young as possible, when on diet, as well as for general well-being and health.
Antioxidants as supplements are a class of nutrients that help fight and rid the body of free radicals - the gremlins that can cause untold damage to our bodies. The importance of antioxidants are nowadays accepted by even the most conservative medical fields, and people find great benefit from these nutritional ingredients in achieving optimum health.
The quantities used in supplements are still open to discussion, with various researchers giving different information on what they consider sufficient, and although it would be great to simply get the antioxidants from a balanced diet, this is seldom achieved in our over-processed diets filled with junk and convenience food.
When the cells in the body carry on their daily functions, oxygen is used in the process and oxidation takes place - and although these are normal functions, they do cause free radicals.
Free radicals in some cases only exist in the body for a split second, but that split second is time enough to cause long-term damage.
Free radicals are also caused by a variety of factors, such as a diet high in fried and barbequed foods, environmental pollution and exhaust fumes, radiation (including SUN TANNING), cigarette smoking, toxins, etc. (When last have you really breathed unpolluted air?)
Another action which causes the formation of free radicals is when you are muscle-building and exercising hard, since the dramatic increase of oxygen consumption needed to sustain the training sessions also cause a dramatic increase of free radicals being formed in the body.
Food high in fat can also produce more free radicals since more are formed in the synthesis of fats than when synthesizing proteins and carbohydrates.
What makes a free radical dangerous in too large quantities is the fact that it is an atom, or group of atoms, with at least one unpaired electron - which is an unstable arrangement. With this atom being unpaired, other molecules easily bond with it, which causes a chemical reaction.
These free radicals are constantly being formed (and it is essential that they do occur as the body needs them) and are constantly being kept in check by free radical scavengers.
The free radical action is needed by the body to kill off diseased cells as well as pathogens and a variety of other essential functions - but they become problematic to us when they are too plentiful in our bodies.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to the free electron of the atoms.
Should the free radicals not be neutralized and destroyed in the body, they can also trigger the production of even more free radicals, which compounds the problem with subsequent damage to the cells.
It is indicated that massive amounts of free radicals may interfere with the genetic coding within the cells, upset protein synthesis, which in turn can upset the immune system. Free radicals can also damage the protective cell membranes, as well as lead to water retention within the cells.
Different free radicals are found in the body - such as superoxide, hydroxy radicals, hydrogen peroxide, lipid peroxides, hypochlorite radicals, nitric oxide etc, and they are neutralized by naturally occurring enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), methionine reductase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase.
It is however felt by certain researchers that your body's ability to produce sufficient antioxidants gets less as you age - which is a double whammy, since it is believed by some that antioxidants are vitally important when trying to combat ageing as such.
Over and above the naturally occurring enzymes, certain nutrients also act as antioxidants, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, plus the precursor of vitamin A - beta-carotene, flavonoids (oligomeric proanthocyanidins - such as pine bark and grape seed extract) as well as the minerals selenium and zinc, the hormone melatonin, green tea etc.
This is where the controversy now enters the arena between medical research and some nutritional advisers - the medical researchers feel that the RDA amounts (or slightly higher quantities) are sufficient, while some nutritionists would rather see far more taken.
Although we do not advocate mega-dose therapies of certain vitamins, it is however interesting to take note of some of the suggested RDAs.
For instance, vitamin C RDA is 60 mg per day, plus another 35 mg per day should you smoke. The 60 mg of vitamin C would however not go very far, since that amount is really required to prevent scurvy.
Since vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin excesses are excreted in the urine, and the "father" of vitamin C, Dr. Linus Pauling, did studies by placing terminal patients on vitamin C - 10,000 mg per day, and found they lived about four times longer than those not on vitamin C.
Another great nutritionist, Adelle Davis, was also a firm believer of using vitamin C in therapeutic quantities and used it to treat a variety of ills - from colds, bruising, and periodontal problems to toxicity.
A very high intake of vitamin C could cause diarrhea but this normally ceases as soon as the dosage is cut down.
With other antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin A and E a person should take care, since they are stored in the body and toxic levels can be reached if very high quantities are taken in supplement form.
The mineral selenium is also a great antioxidant, but since it can be toxic in high dosages, your intake should be controlled.
Much is being written about pine bark extract, but since it can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals, it might be wiser to opt for grape seed extract - the other oligomeric proanthocyanidin.
It is thought that a shortage of antioxidants could cause, or assist in causing, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, diabetes, hypertension, infertility, macular degeneration (eye lens degeneration) measles, mental illness, periodontal disease, respiratory tract infection as well as rheumatoid arthritis.
An autopsy study on the brains of people who died free of Alzheimer's disease compared to those who showed signs of Alzheimer's, had twice as much free radical activity in their brains.
People on diet would also benefit to ensure that there are enough antioxidants in their system, since free radicals are released in large quantities when synthesizing fats.
Some research also indicates that age spots (also referred to as liver spots) are indicative of free radical damage, since they are a build-up of waste known as lipofuscin accumulation which is a byproduct of free radical damage in skin cells.
The greater amount of medical doctors however still do not subscribe to the use of antioxidants to help treat age spots and would rather treat with lasers, liquid nitrogen or retinol containing creams and lotions, and advise to stay out of the sun.
If we however take the antioxidant/old age spot argument to its logical conclusion, it would then also indicate that there might be a build-up of free radicals in other (not so visible) parts of the body as well.
(A folk remedy for old age spots is to rub castor oil onto the spots twice a day or to daub the spot with lemon juice twice a day - it might be worth a try since the cost involved is very little.)
We will not go into the side effects of sun tanning in this month's newsletter - but please take note - try not to expose your skin for excessive periods of time to the sun - not only is it extremely aging but it can also lead to skin cancers.
Should age spots be present on a person's skin, it may be a good idea to increase your dietary intake of antioxidants by means of your diet or supplementation.
By adding enough antioxidants to the diet there is less oxidation stress, which can also help to slow down some of the visible signs of aging.
Another sign that you might be in need of some extra antioxidants would be if you are continually prone to infections, easy bruising, slow wound healing, excessive wrinkling of the skin and easy toxicity of your body.
This is by no means all the data available on antioxidants and free radicals, but we hope that we have given you some more information on a subject that so many people are talking about currently.