Antioxidants, Disease and Free Radicals


By Mary-Ann Shearer

The Modern Lifestyle is anti- antioxidants

Despite the technological advances of the modern era, and the reams of scientific research which demonstrates the link between lifestyle and disease, humans continue to lead more and more damaging lifestyles.

  • We are exposed either directly, or indirectly, to incredible amounts of environmental pollution (think tobacco smoke. exhaust fumes, smog and smoke from factories etc . . .).
  • We exist on high-fat, over-processed foods, and often don’t drink enough water.
  • Many people, as part of their jobs, are exposed to solvents, chemicals, and synthetics.
  • Most of us get less than enough exercise.
  • Stress is a constant.

We all know that these influences can harm us. How, we aren’t too sure why. Even more important, we are’t sure what we can do to prevent this harm.

It seems like a mystery.

Many of the answers to these questions lie in an understanding of free radicals and antioxidants. Perhaps these are terms you haven’t heard of before. Understanding them may prevent many of the lifestyle disorders and diseases we are at risk of developing every day.

Free radicals

Free radicals are molecules that are missing one of their electrons. That makes them unstable and highly reactive. In humans, the most common types of free radicals are made from oxygen molecules – that’s why free radical damage is often called oxidation.

Oxygen free radicals “attack” the nearest molecule, trying to capture the needed electron to gain stability. This may cause damage by pulling an electron from an otherwise normal cell of your body. Critically, when the “attacked” molecule loses its electron, it becomes a free radical itself – beginning a chain reaction. Once the process is started, this “cascade” of free-radical damage can finally result in the disruption of a living cell.

  • Free radicals destroy cells by damaging their membranes. This is just part of normal activity at cellular level. As a result the membrane does not function properly in taking nutrients to the cells and to remove waste products, and so the cell dies due to starvation or DROWNING in WASTE products!
  • Free radicals also damage DNA and when this happens mutated enzymes are produced,  preventing the cells from multiplying. This speeds up the ageing process.
  • Free radicals also weld molecules together – like putting handcuffs on them, so they don’t function properly. When this happens with collagen in the skin, elasticity and smoothness is lost and the skin becomes stiff and wrinkled.

Although the body uses both oxidation and free radicals for many purposes such as energy production and some aspects of immune function, free radicals must be controlled in order to protect our tissues from inflammation and other types of damage.

The effects of free radicals on the body

These volatile free radicals can attack the membranes of cells, the DNA in the cells, proteins and fats in the blood stream, the collagen that lies beneath the skin and many other tissues:

  • Cardiovascular Disease. Much recent research shows that free radical damage causes cells in arteries to more easily absorb the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, thus increasing the risk of cholesterol deposits and narrowed arteries.
  • Research has shown that oxidized blood fats interfere with the actions of the hormone insulin.
  • In rheumatoid arthritis, free radicals are active in the chronic inflammation that causes pain and stiffness and damages the joints.
  • Free radicals can attack and alter the DNA (genetic code) in the cells. Over time, such damage may become irreversible and lead to disease including cancer.
  • The eye. Free radicals may cause damage to the sensitive tissue of the retina. This increases the risk of certain disorders, like macular degeneration.
  • Free radicals attack cells in the skin and organs, which results in loss of tone and texture
Are All Free Radicals Destructive?

No. In fact, your body needs them to function. For example, you need free radicals to metabolise glucose and fat. Your body also uses free radicals to keep you healthy. For instance, white blood cells destroy bacteria-or virus-infected cells by attacking them with a burst of free radicals. Additionally, your immune system uses free radicals to destroy cancerous and other abnormal cells. However, most people have more free radicals than they need. That’s why it’s important to get protection from antioxidants.

Antioxidants: part of the solution.

Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by unstable free radicals. They prevent or reduce the rate of oxidation by donating an electron to stabilize the free radical, thereby preventing some of the damage free radicals otherwise might cause.

Depending on the amount of antioxidants available and the level of exposure to chemicals, insufficient diet or immune suppression, there can be thousands of free-radical events taking place in one’s body at any given moment. So the existence of sufficient antioxidants – made by the body, derived from the diet, or supplemented – can mean the difference between health and disease.

Common Antioxidant Nutrients

The body makes use of a great variety of anti-oxidants and free radical scavengers for different purposes and to protect tissues with different needs.

  • Vitamins A, C, and E have important anti-oxidant functions.
  • The vitamin-like compounds alpha-lipoic acid and coenzyme Q-10 are powerful anti-oxidants.
  • The body uses the minerals copper, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc to produce powerful anti-oxidant compounds.
  • Beta-carotene and other similar brightly coloured pigments found in foods, such as lycopene in tomatoes.
  • Certain colourless compounds, including the catechins found in green tea and other green plant foods
  • The proanthocyanidins found in the coats of grape seeds and in red/black grapes, in all blue, purple and red berries are especially noteworthy as anti-oxidants. Proanthocyanidins are important bioflavonoids that have powerful antiallergy, antihistamine, antiviral, antiageing and antioxidant properties.

There are 4 biochemical properties of these substances that are responsible for the many benefits of this group of antioxidants

  1. Free-radical scavenging
  2. Collagen binding
  3. Inhibition of inflammatory enzymes (preventing inflammatory conditions – good reason to not exclude the foods that contain these with arthritis etc. )
  4. Inhibition of histamine formation (protecting against allergies and hayfever)

The benefits of proanthocyanidins, demonstrated in many studies include the following;

  • Improvement of skin smoothness  and elasticity
  • Strengthens capillaries, arteries and veins – improving circulation, cell vitality, varicose veins and swollen legs and ankles.
  • Reduces water retention
  • Diabetic retinopathy – eye problems
  • Reduces damage from stress
  • Improves visual acuity
  • Improves sluggish memory
  • Improves joint flexibility improves inflammation in arthritis and sports injuries

Other anti-oxidants include ellagic acid in strawberries, resveratrol found in some red, black and blue berries, pomegranates as well as red/black grapes and raisins, and the isoflavones found in soybeans and in members of the cabbage family.

What’s best? There is no one “best” anti-oxidant. This is because water-soluble anti-oxidants like vitamin C are best at protecting those tissues that contain water-soluble compounds, such as proteins. Fat-soluble anti-oxidants like vitamin E are best at protecting fat-based tissues, such as the membranes of all cells. Anti-oxidants that protect both types of tissues and which may improve the results of other anti-oxidants are especially useful as supplements. Such “team” players include alpha-lipoic acid and proanthocyanidins.

Overall, a mixture of many different anti-oxidants is far superior to the use of any single anti-oxidant. That’s one of the reason I really like Liquifruit Vitality – it combines almost all of the main antioxidants from Vitamin C to Carotenoids, resveratrol found in grapes and berries, to ellagicacid in strawberries and other berries, proanthocyanidins from the grape seed extract and the berries.

ORAC  (Oxygen radical Absorption Capacity – or the ability to destroy free radicals) can be measured and evaluated.

Here are some of the ORAC values of the fruits in Liquifruit Vitality fruit blends

Cherries 670

Red Grapes 739

Rasberries 1220

Strawberries 1540

Cranberries 1750

Black berries 2036

Dark grapes 2830

Pomegranates 3307

Specific benefits of antioxidants
  • Cardiovascular health: The vitamins C and E help to protect fats in the blood against damage, prevent the formation of foam cells in the artery lining, and improve the body’s ability to utilise insulin to control blood sugar levels. These are important factors in preventing heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Plant compounds (known as polyphenols, including proanthocyanidins) support the health of the veins and arteries.
  • Fighting Cancer: Antioxidants protect against cancer in at least three ways: by destroying cancer-causing free radicals, by boosting the body’s immune system so it can destroy mutated cells, and by reducing the tendency of cancer cells to adhere to other organs and glands.
  • Boosting immunity: Because the body generates its own free radicals to destroy bacteria and viruses, the immune cells get their own protection from protective anti-oxidants, anti-oxidant enzymes, and free radical scavengers. Some anti-oxidants also increase the production of interferon and other immune boosting components, and a number of anti-oxidants are themselves directly toxic to viruses and/or prevent viruses from gaining entry into cells for replication.
  • Younger looking skin: Anti-oxidants, like the proanthocyanidins create younger looking skin by reducing the sources of inflammation and by inhibiting enzymes, such as hyaluronidase, which break down collagen-based tissues.
  • Fertility: In men, vitamins C, E and the mineral selenium, can improve the number and the viability of sperm. In women, selenium probably has the best record of improving fertility.
  • Macular degeneration: People at higher risk of the advanced stages of macular degeneration may be able to lower that risk with a dietary supplement of antioxidants, zinc and copper.

Which foods are rich in antioxidants?

Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables, as well as in other foods including nuts, grains

  • Beta-carotene is found in many foods that are orange in colour, including sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and mango. Some green leafy vegetables including spinach and broccoli are also rich in beta-carotene, as well as Lutein and Zeaxanthan. Sprouted grains such as barley grass and wheat grass are particularly high in Super Oxide Dismutase
  • Lycopene is a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots and pink grapefruit.
  • Selenium is found in plant foods like rice and wheat, as well as Brazil nuts.
  • Vitamin A precursor – the beta carotene is found in sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, papaya and anything that is bright orange or yellow.
  • Vitamin C is found in high abundance in many fruits and vegetables and is also found in cereals, beef, poultry and fish.
  • Vitamin E is found in almonds, cashews, brazil, sunflower seeds (in fact all nuts and seeds) in all cold pressed vegetable oils including olive, flax, sesame and sunflower oil and also found in mangos, nuts, broccoli and other foods.

A comprehensive antioxidant program

  • Improve the dietary intake of antioxidants by increasing the number of vegetables and whole fruits consumed every day. 5-11 servings are usually seen as the minimum – there is no maximum.
  • Best supplementation is freshly extracted juices from foods that contain bright colours, such as berries and beets, barley and wheat grass juice, carrots, papaya and mangoes. These foods provide the most powerful antioxidants. Next would be 100% pure juices such as Ceres and or Liquifruit. BarleyLife is an exceptional source or luein and zeaxanthan to important carotenoid antioxidants known to have an extremely positive effect on your eyes and skin.
  • Lifestyle measures: Avoid tobacco smoke and smog. Stay away from high-fat, over-processed foods and fried. Reduce exposure to solvents, chemicals, and synthetics. Get some exercise, but don’t overdo it. Drink sufficient plain water. Try to reduce stress, (exercise and diet will do this) which increases free-radical production.
  • Make a point of following a 75-80% alkaline forming, plant based diet.


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