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Antioxidants Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy In recent years there has been intensive research into the phenomenon of aging. Until the 1950s, the predominate thinking in science was that aging is exclusively a phenomenon programmed into the genes, a kind of genetic clock with just so many ticks and, at the last tick, your time would be up, and there would be nothing to be done about it.

That paradigm has been replaced with the idea that aging is a complex phenomenon affected by many variables. Most of these variables are covered in this website. You could think of this website as an anti-aging course, although it is much more than that. Such areas as nutrition, emotions, aerobics, colon health, addictions, fasting, sugar, salt, internal organ health, relationships and sexuality now are well-known to be associated with vitality and longevity. Probably there is an internal clock ticking away, but there are many ways to wind that clock so that it ticks longer and with more vitality.

Curiously, one of the most powerful ways of rewinding the life clock is almost unknown to the general public. Does this term ring a bell: "Free radicals?" Probably not, unless you have made a point to educate yourself broadly in health matters. Dr. Denhan Harman first proposed the free radical theory of aging and disease in 1959. For many years his theory was rejected, ignored, or disparaged by the medical establishment. Since then, Dr. Harman's ideas have been validated and expanded, particularly in the late eighties and early nineties.

Your body burns food for fuel just as a fireplace burns wood for fuel. In both cases it is literally a burning process. In the case of a fireplace the fire is more obvious. In your body, this burning occurs molecule by molecule, so that a fire does not erupt. Both processes — that in a fireplace and that in the cells of your body — burn oxygen, a process called "oxidation." In a fireplace, there are ashes left over after the fire. In your body, free radicals are left over. These are molecules which have an extra unpaired electron. This extra electron makes the free radical molecule highly reactive. These molecules act like flaming torches in relationship to the tissues of your body. Free radicals, at a molecular level, burn everything they touch. The type of free radical makes a world of difference. Oxygen free radicals, known as "oxides" and represented by the chemical symbol O-, are cleansing and assist in breaking down toxins and killing pathogenic organisms. Hydroxyl free radicals, represented by the chemical shorthand OH-, are damaging to cellular structures, particularly the cell membrane which holds the cell together.

The breakdown of fats in the body produces even more free radicals than does the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins. When fat is left out at room temperature, free radicals are formed. We say the fat has gone "rancid" and is no longer edible. If you bite into a nut which has gone rancid, you spit it out immediately, because it tastes terrible. This is how a mouthful of hydroxyl free radicals tastes.

There are several categories of free radicals, which result from the oxidation of different kinds of foods. Cholesterol, fats and particularly unsaturated fats, are routinely oxidized to free radicals called "peroxides." Lipid peroxide attacks and destroys cell membranes.

Because hydroxyl free radicals are so damaging to the body, nature has designed a system to neutralize them. The body produces substances called "antioxidants," which convert hydroxyl free radicals into harmless molecules. Antioxidants are produced within the cells. The cells' ability to produce adequate amounts of antioxidants is determined by age, inheritance, nutrition and stress. People who produce higher than usual levels of natural antioxidants enjoy greater health and longevity. This connection has been researched and proven.

Free radicals affect the body as CDCs affect ozone in the upper atmosphere—a little goes a long way. When a free radical does its damage, it is not neutralized but able to continue doing further damage, creating more hydroxyl free radicals. If unchecked by antioxidants, hydroxyl free radicals act like a fire out of control.

In a young, healthy, well-nourished, non-stressed individual, sufficient amounts of antioxidants are produced in the cells to handle the challenge of hydroxyl free radicals. As a person grows older, the cells are less able to produce sufficient amounts of antioxidants. This circumstance is made worse when the person is on a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, or when the person is ill.

Any combination of these conditions can result in an imbalance, so that there are excess hydroxyl free radicals in the body. These hydroxyl free radicals attack the tissues and cause cell breakdown and inflammation. The most obvious result is arthritis and myositis (joint and muscle inflammation), but most investigators believe that excess hydroxyl free radicals play an important part in cancer, heart disease, cataracts and aging itself. It may be that hydroxyl free radicals attack the very systems which produce antioxidants and thus, over a period of years, weaken the body's ability to deal with hydroxyl free radicals. Most investigators believe that a constant barrage of hydroxyl free radicals damages the chromosomes themselves and may, in this way, speed up the aging process.

Whatever the cause, the production of antioxidants begins to decline at age twenty and, interestingly, this also is the time when visible aging begins. Until very recently, aging and the degenerative changes which go along with aging were thought to be inevitable. This may turn out not to be the case.

The word "antioxidant" refers to a broad range of substances, each designed to handle one type of an equally broad range of hydroxyl free radicals. Here is a list of vitamin antioxidants: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is the precursor of the vitamin A molecule. It is made of two vitamin A molecules attached to each other.

Certain minerals empower these vitamin antioxidants, and these are selenium, copper, zinc and manganese. One amino acid is an especially powerful antioxidant: L-cysteine. Vitamin C often is added to processed food as a preservative. It works by preventing oxidation.

Antioxidants identical to the body's own naturally occurring antioxidants can be extracted from whole grain. These substances are known as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GT) and methionine reductase (MET).

Here are steps to take to handle hydroxyl free radicals:

  1. The first order of business is to stop swallowing hydroxyl free radicals. Free radicals are produced by frying foods in oil or fat. Do not eat fried foods.
  2. The most powerful source of free radical formation is saturated fat. Eat a minimum of saturated fat in your diet.
  3. Avoid consumption of rancid fat. Learn to identify rancid fat with your nose. You can do this by allowing cooking oil to set out for a few days. Sniff any fatty substance before you put it in your mouth. If it is rancid throw it away. This applies to nuts and not-so-fresh fried food of any kind.
  4. Every day, eat a large salad and one or two carrots. This supplies beta-carotene, plus other carotenes as well, vitamin C and probably a variety of useful substances not yet discovered.
  5. Take the following doses of antioxidants daily: vitamin A 10,000 IUs, vitamin C 5000 mg., vitamin E 800 IUs, beta-carotene 50,000 IUs, selenium 400 mcg., L-cysteine 1 gm. in morning and 1 gm. in afternoon, thiamine 150 mg.
  6. Take a daily vitamin B complex supplement with two to three times the daily recommended level of vitamin Bs.

For more information, follow these hyperlinks:
Nutritional Medicine
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The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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