X is for antioxidants. Antioxidants help to retard the aging process, lower cholesterol levels, decrease risk of atherosclerosis, protect against heart disease and stroke, reduce risk of all types of cancer, slow progression of Alzheimer’s, suppress tumor growth, detoxify carcinogens, protect eyes from macular degeneration, defend the body from pollutants, and protect against COPD (pulmonary disease).
Antioxidants protect against oxidation which occurs as a result of normal metabolism. Free radicals are created when the body uses oxygen to create energy. These free radicals contain unpaired electrons that will scavenge the body until finding a suitable electron to pair with.
Free radicals become dangerous when they accumulate and begin to cause damage to the cell walls and also to the genetic coding of the cells. When the cells are damaged, function is impaired. When the genetic coding is damaged, the cells lose their ability to reproduce normal healthy cells.
Free radicals are normally kept in check by free radical scavengers that occur naturally in the body. Over time, the body produces more free radicals than scavengers, resulting in an imbalance that causes us to age.
Our lifestyles also contribute to an abundance of free radicals. Factors that increase free radicals include exposure to radiation, and exposure to toxic chemicals such as those found in cigarette smoke, polluted air, and industrial and household chemicals. Dietary sources that increase free radicals include foods fried at high temperature, foods charcoal-broiled, nitrites, and cured meats.
Another major contributor to free radical damage is stress. Stress triggers and intensifies the effects of all other causes of disease and aging and accelerates the use and depletion of nutrients needed for health.
Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons. Antioxidants work synergistically, meaning that it is better to take smaller doses of several different antioxidants than a large amount of only one. For example, a mix of natural carotenoids provides more health benefits than beta-carotene does alone.
Vitamin antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E. Herbal antioxidants include bilberry, burdock, turmeric, garlic, ginkgo biloba, grape seed extract, green tea, and milk thistle. Mineral antioxidants include selenium and zinc. Other significant antioxidants are alpha-lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, glutathione, n-acetyl cysteine or NAC, and superoxide dismutase or SOD.
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is notable. It functions as an antioxidant on its own, plus as a recycler of vitamins C and E. ALA stimulates the body’s production of glutathione and aids in the absorption of coenzyme Q10. ALA has been used in Europe for almost 30 years to treat peripheral nerve degeneration and to help control blood sugar levels in diabetics. It also helps to detoxify the liver, block cataract formation, protect nerve tissues and reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Note that quality really counts on all of these antioxidants – low quality versions end up creating more free radicals – so they defeat the purpose of taking them.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.