Free Radicals, Antioxidants and You
· Free radicals what they are and what they do
At this point in our story it is important to understand what a free radical is, and what it does.
A free radical is a highly reactive molecule with an unpaired electron in its outer shell. What this means is that it is a particle floating around in your system looking to steal an electron from some other molecule. Free radicals are generally not too picky, they will take an electron usually from the first molecule they bump into, usually the membrane of cells. When the electron is stolen it causes that molecule to become unstable and not function properly. Further, the newly destabilized molecule can often become a free-radical itself, thereby exponentially increasing the amount of damage in the body. In the case of cell membranes this will cause the cell to not function properly, since the membrane is vital for the communication from other cells and systems of the body. The longer term effect of this is, that as the cell degrades in quality it no longer functions properly, so if it is an immune cell, it won’t help fight infection as well, or if it is a cell lining your stomach it may not secrete enough stomach acid, or even may secrete too much acid, either effect is possible. Further, when it is time for the cell to replicate as all cells do, it replicates improperly, creating a less healthy, less functional cell. Consider for a moment the symptoms we normally attribute to aging; less elastic skin, degrading eyesight, joints that don’t move as well, etc… These are all the symptoms of cells, and therefore organs and systems, not functioning as well as they used to, or were designed to. When there is enough damage to the membrane, the structure of the cell becomes unstable and the cell dies, further weakening the organ and system it is a part of
All symptoms of aging are due to oxidative stress from free-radicals. Did you know that getting old is a myth? Have you ever compared two 80 year old people and noticed that one is hobbled, perhaps walking with a cane or walker, barely able to stand straight, has little to no energy, while the other is upright, active, vital, sharp-minded, etc… They are both the same age; however one is much older than the other.
Oxidative stress from free radicals indiscriminately damage s the membrane of the cells in your body. This has potentially devastating consequences to your health.
- Decreased skin and tissue elasticity (wrinkles)
- Poorly functioning cartilage and other joint tissues (arthritis)
- The breakdown of healthy nervous system tissues (memory loss, poor eyesight)
- Dysfunctional glandular system (decreased energy levels, increased weight gain)
- Ineffective immune system (increased chance of infections like pneumonia and others, increased chance of cancer)
- Low-level, chronic inflammation (free-radical formation) has been linked to a wide range of serious illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression and mood disorders
The list goes on and on, but these examples illustrate the point.
The question becomes: What can I do about free-radicals?
1. Limit free-radical formation.
2. Protect your body from their harmful effects.
3. Repair and correct the damage that has already happened.
1. Limit free-radical formation
The most potent generator of free-radicals in your body is respiration, i.e. breathing. As far as free radical creators that you can do something about, inflammation is the most potent. This means that not only does inflammation cause the discomfort of pain and dysfunction; it is also causing damage to your whole body, degrading your overall health and causing you to age more rapidly. Now, I would never promote the regular use of anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or acetametaphin, these have their own host of harmful side-effects that far outweigh any potential help they might provide. There are however many natural, health benefiting ways to reduce your overall level of inflammation.
First and foremost it is important to address the underlying cause of the inflammation.
Chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage therapy, and other natural healing modalities can assist with this process. If the underlying physical dysfunction is left alone, no amount of other support can truly do the job. We have been indoctrinated since birth to treat the symptoms of a problem rather than the underlying cause, this is backwards and dangerous. Correcting the underlying cause often does take more time to produce the desired results, however the changes are real and lasting, and also send the message to your body that its health is important.
There are many healthy dietary additions that reduce inflammation, while at the same time improving other aspects of health. These include both dietary additions, as well as supplementation.
Foods that support reducing inflammation:
-Omega-3 rich wild fish, like salmon. Omega-3s are a healthy fat that reduces the formation of the chemical precursors of inflammation.
-Walnuts and flax seeds. These nuts and seeds provide healthy omega-3’s along with other important healthy fats and nutrients.
-Colorful vegetables. Choose organic and local when possible, harmful pesticides and herbicides can add to your free-radical load.
-Colorful whole fruits. Again choose organic and local.
-Extra virgin olive oil. Be sure to use this either unheated or only moderately heated when cooking.
Supplements for reducing inflammation:
-High quality omega 3 supplements. Fish oil and flax oil are the most effective and widely available dietary supplements for omega-3’s. With fish oil it is extremely important to be sure it is high quality and has been certified to be free of PCB’s and heavy metals. Another option that has recently come into the market place is Krill oil, which seems to be an exciting alternative to fish oil with added benefits. Flax oil is a good addition to a regimen that already includes fish oil, but is not a suitable replacement. Flax adds other beneficial oils such as ALA. For more about fish oil and flax seed oil, follow this link.
-Mangosteen. Mangosteen is a fruit that grows in jungle environments in South-east Asia that is new to the U.S. marketplace. There has been increasing research into the healthful benefits of this fruit and especially its rind. One impressive effect it has is to powerfully reduce inflammation.
-Green tea is a powerful anti-inflammatory when used regularly. Green tea is high in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). In a 1997 study, researchers from the University of Kansas determined that EGCG is twice as powerful as reversterol (the beneficial ingredient in red wine) in promoting longevity and heart health.
There are many more out there, but these three are the cream of the crop.
Stress, mental, chemical, physical, emotional all increase formation of free radicals in the body
Reduce your stress levels. There are many techniques and exercises that have reducing stress as part of their intent or focus. Some of the most commonly understood are meditation, yoga, and hypnotherapy. Regular exercise has also been shown to effectively reduce the level of stress in your life. (For more on reducing stress click here)
Toxic chemicals pervade our modern environment. The air we breathe is full of toxins from industry, automobiles, hairspray, etc… The water in the rivers and lake has been polluted. Plastics with harsh chemicals are part of packaging and other products we use daily. Many of the cleaning products and even personal care products found in most homes having varying degrees of toxicity to them. This seems to be a very pervasive problem and I won’t go into more detail here about it, except to say the more you can limit your exposure to these types of chemicals the less free-radical formation you will expose your body to.
2. Protect your body from the harmful effects
Earlier in this article, we covered free-radicals; what they are and what they do to your body. Antioxidants are molecules that help to counteract the damaging action of free radicals. If you remember, free-radicals move through your body stealing electrons from the cells they come into contact with, altering their normal function and even killing them. Antioxidants freely donate an electron to the free-radical, thereby neutralizing its harmful effect and not becoming a free radical themselves. In effect these chemical compounds neutralize the harmful effects of oxidizing free-radicals. The benefits of decreased cellular oxidation include:
- Youthful elastic skin and tissue.
- Properly functioning cartilage and other joint tissues.
- The proper function of healthy nervous system tissues, meaning a sharp mind and a highly functional body, along with good eyesight, good memory and concentration.
- Properly functioning glandular system, meaning good energy levels, proper weight management, and better emotional stability.
- Functional immune system
Some common dietary antioxidants and their sources:
-Vitamin A and carotenoids:
Carrots, squashes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, kale, collard greens, red and yellow peppers, cantaloupe, peaches, apricots and mangos. (Basically most colorful fruits and vegetables)
Citrus fruits, green, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, other dark green vegetables, tomatoes, pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, papaya and guava.
Nuts and seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, some vegetable oils, wheat germ, legumes, brown rice, and liver oils
Fish and shellfish, red meat, whole grains, eggs, chicken, garlic, and most vegetables.
-A small list of the many beneficial phytochemicals:
Polyphenol-rich foods like red wine, purple grapes, pomegranates, cranberries, green tea, and mangosteen
Lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon
Lutein-rich foods like kale. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables
Lignan-rich foods like flax seeds, oatmeal, barley and rye.
Anthocyanidin-rich foods like berries, cherries and red grapes
Proanthocyanidin-rich foods like cranberries, cocoa, apples, strawberries, grapes, wine, peanuts, and cinnamon
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and research into antioxidants is ongoing and more compounds are discovered all the time, usually touted as the new savior food to fight cancer and reverse aging. While it is true that antioxidants have many varied and beneficial functions, it is important to remember that a wide variety of good quality antioxidants is the best for overall health and to vary your diet, and importantly to view supplements as just that, supplemental to a good diet.
3. Repair and correct the damage that has been done
Now that we have looked at reducing free radical formation, and protecting the body from the effects of the free-radical that are produced, the next logical step is to go about the business of repairing the damage that has already been done.
One very important feature of the proper function of the body is the proper function of the nervous system. The human body is designed to be perfectly healthy at all times, and is in a constant state of striving for this perfect health dependent upon the environment it is given. There is an innate intelligence that is a non-local property of all living things which gives animation to them; it is what separates living organisms from inanimate objects. It is this intelligence that allows us to heal from a cut without giving it conscious attention, it causes for the coordination of our body’s 600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000/second functions in perfect harmony. In the human body the innate intelligence uses the nervous system to coordinate the functions of all the other systems, organ, and cells. For the full potential of health and therefore the greatest ability to heal and correct damage that has occurred, the nervous system must be healthy and freely functioning without interference. This is where chiropractic care enters the picture. Chiropractic care is about the business of assisting the body to clear subluxations (patterns of interference to the nervous system, and therefore the innate intelligence’s function). This allows for the greatest potential of health to be attained. If the nervous system has interference, one can eat a great diet, exercise properly, get good, rest, etc.., but still not be achieving 100% health.
The body is more likened to a flowing river of change, rather than a static machine of function. So, even though we think of our bodies as being permanent structures, most of our tissues are continually being turned over, renewed in a balance between the constant death of old cells and the constant birth of new cells. Some studies have suggested that the average age of the cells in an adult human may be as low as seven to ten years. (An interesting concept for those who consider their ill health to be a result of their body being old) This reality adds restorative importance to dietary and lifestyle changes that can help to limit oxidative stress. In effect, it is never too late to make positive changes towards health, and with a full spectrum approach, including reverence for the innate intelligence that really does the healing, seemingly miraculous changes can occur.
A brief list of some other habits and healthy changes once can make to correct and repair prior damage:
-Get your intestinal flora back in proper balance through colon cleanses and proliferation of beneficial bacteria
-Daily exercise that includes strength training, coordination and balance work, and stretching and lengthening muscles.
-Get good sleep nightly
-Reduce your overall load of stress; mental, physical, chemical, and emotional.