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Quest Vitamins LTD,
8 Venture Way,
Aston Science Park,
B7 4AP.

Tel: 0121 359 0056
Fax: 0121 359 0313
Registered in England No. 2530437

Antioxidants - The Silent Protectors

Antioxidants - The Slient Protectors

Antioxidants have become the focus of much media attention which has led to many people to recognise the word, without knowing what they are for and what they do. An antioxidant is any compound, which has the ability to protect against the biological process known as oxidation. If oxidation is allowed to damage the intricate structures of a cell, then this is referred to as oxidative stress.

Oxygens - bad side

We all know oxygen is essential for us to stay alive but many people do not know that oxygen in a different form is probably the cause of almost all diseases known to man. The very first stage in the progression of diseases such as cancer and heart disease is caused by what are known as oxygen free radicalsor re-active oxygen species (ROS). However, when this formula is disruputed oxygen can become very reactive, volatile and a danger to cells.

These extremely volatile compounds are produced in our bodies every second as a by-product of our metabolism and are simply an oxygen atom with an un-paired electron. This molecule will then try to find a suitable donor to pair up with its electron and will subsequently attack anything in its path, including DNA and cholesterol molecules until it is happy that all of its electrons have a partner. It is these rather selfish attacks which cause the damage that leads to the above mentioned diseases.

It is at this point where antioxidants are so useful. They could be described as a Kamikaze nutrient as they sacrifice themselves in order to protect the contents of the cell from the endless attack
from ROS. Instead of the ROS attacking cellular structures to gain the missing electron they will attack the antioxidants and this is how they can protect our cells. Important dietary antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.

The human body does have its own antioxidant protection system, which consists of a group of compounds produced by the liver. However, considering that each and every cell in the body is attacked by ROS a staggering 10,000 times each day, this system is already under strain but can cope. It is only when this system is overwhelmed with ROS that dietary intervention is essential and unfortunately this is the case most of the time with todays climate and lifestyle.

There are many environmental factors which can cause this added strain on our defence system which include increased UV light exposure (due to the hole in the ozone layer), smoking, pollution and even barbecuing food. It is for these reasons that an adequate daily intake of antioxidants is vital, as it is only when our defence system can no longer cope with the increased ROS production do diseases begin to develop.


Therefore it is beneficial to include plenty of foods containing antioxidants in the diet and there is a very simple method of assessing whether a food contains antioxidants.This can be done just by looking at the food and seeing how brightly coloured it is.

This is because most of the antioxidants are actually the compounds in fruits and vegetables which give them their colour. For
example beta-carotene, which tends to give the fruit an orange or yellow colour, is a potent antioxidant as is lycopene, which is the compound responsible for giving tomatoes their characteristic red colour.

This is one of the many reasons why it is recommended that we
consume at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day as this will provide the extra antioxidants needed to fight ROS as well as an important source of dietary fibre.

Supplement Help

Supplements should also play an important role in providing these nutrients as there are certain circumstances which require levels of antioxidants that cannot be provided by diet alone. One such
circumstance is a prolonged exposure to sunlight as is usually the case when we go on holiday. It is now advised that if we are going abroad to a country which is sunny and hot and out skin will be exposed to more sunlight than it is used to, we should start taking antioxidant supplements at least two weeks before to build up extra protection.

This is because the harmful UV rays from the sun, which are penetrating the Earths atmosphere, are hitting out skin cells and leading to the production of ROS. These ROS then attack the DNA
in the skin cells which, without suffiicient protection and repair mechanisms, may lead to cancer.

Consuming antioxidants before we are exposed to the sun will help to build up an extra protective barrier which will help to prevent
these ROS from attacking the DNA and therefore may prevent the onset of skin diseases. However, it must be stated that antioxidants alone should not be relied upon to provide preotection from the Suns rays and suncream must always be applied.

Bad Cholesterol

The skin is not the only part of the human body which can be protected by an adequate daily intake of antioxidants. The heart and circulatory system will also benefit from an increased consumption of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. This is due to the fact that as with cancer, the initiation of heart disease is triggered by ROS. In this circumstance, the ROS do not attack DNA but they attack the bad form of cholesterol which is referred to as LDL.

When this LDL is attacked it becomes oxidised and can then enter the blood vessel wall where it causes the formation of plaque. If this plaque is allowed to grow and cause a blockage in the blood vessel then the blood flow to the area beyond the blockage will be restricted which may cause the death of the tissue. If this kind of blockage occurs in the coronary artery (the blood vessel supplying the heart) then a heart attack will result.

However, if the levels of antioxidants in the blood are sufficiently high, then the oxidation of LDL is less likely to occur
which in turn will decrease the risk of developing heart disease. It is also beneficial to try to increase the amount of monounsaturated fat in the diet, as this type of fat of which olive oil is a good source, is less susceptible to oxidation than polunsaturated fat which is found in most vegetable cooking oils.

Sporting Requirements

There is another situation where antioxidants from food sources may not be adequate to meet the needs of the body and therefore supplements would be required. Athletes or people who partake in strenuous exercise at least twice a week, find themselves in such a situation.

As mentioned above, ROS are produced in our bodies every second as a product of our metabolic process (the breakdown of food to provide energy) and those who lead more sedentary lifestyles should reduce the threat of ROS by dietary means alone. However, athletes are at an increased risk of damage caused by oxidative stress as on average their metabolic rate causes increased ROS production and therefore an antioxidant supplement may help to boost the levels offered by fruit and vegetables and provide extra protection.

Although it is well established that brightly coloured fruits and vegetables including pepers, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries,
blackberries and grapes are naturally high in antioxidants there are other dietary sources which are less obvious. One such source is tea.

Therefore many people are unaware that while they are gaining refreshment from their usual consumption of tea throughout the day they are also consuming antioxidants which may help prevent the onset of the above mentioned diseases. Another good source is red wine, which are the reasons behind the recommendation to consume one glass of red wine each day to prevent heart disease.

It should also be noted that although tomato sauce is usually high in sugar is it also a good source of lycopene, which has been
shown to have the ability to protect against prostate cancer, heart disease and age related macular degeneration.


Simple but...Effective - Advice

In conclusion, the recommendation for the consumption of five portions of fruits and vegetables a day should seriously be considered from an early age as fatty streaks which are the first signs of heart disease, have been observed in children as young as three years old.

With the stresses and strains of modern life, this advice has never been so important as it may be the answer for reducing the
incidence many chronic diseases which have rapidly increased over the last ten years ading extra strain on the already stretched National Health Service.

Simply by placing an apple in a childs lunch box each day instead of a biscuit or chocolate bar would lead to a longer and disease free life. It is never too late to start a new dietary regime as regular consumption of antioxidant containing fruits and vegetables could help the body to rid itself from diseases that may have already begun.

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