Free Radicals and Antioxidants

Free radicals attack your body, literally oxidizing it (like rust) and causing disease. Antioxidants defend you. If you are living an industrial lifestyle, you need a diet that is rich in antioxidants.

Originally published 2000

Free Radicals: The Attackers

Free radicals. No, they’re not counter-culture revolutionaries on the loose. In fact, they are a lot more dangerous. Free radicals are unstable molecular compounds that can inflict incredible damage to the cells of your body. Free radicals have been implicated in more than 50 diseases, including arteriosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, cancer, arthritis, cancer, macular degeneration (the leading cause of irreversible blindness), premature aging, and more. Heart attacks, stroke, and cancer account for more than 75% of the deaths in this country, so it is clear that free radicals have a significant impact on our health.

Free radicals come from many sources. They are produced by radiation, including X-rays from TVs and CRT screens, fluorescent lights, and ultraviolet light that penetrates the Earth’s ozone layer. They are also produced by pollution. In most major metropolitan areas, the air and the water both fall below the EPA’s ideal standards, so the potential for free radical damage is significant. Free radicals are also caused by stress and by intense exercise. With all these sources of free radicals around us, how is that any of us escape their attack?

The truth, for many of us, is that we don’t escape. Arteriosclerosis is a slow hardening and narrowing of the arteries that displays no symptoms at all until suddenly, an artery closes completely and produces a heart attack, stroke, or gangrene. Some cancers, notably lung cancer, take more than a decade to develop. The accumulation of free radical damage has been shown to underlie many symptoms of aging, including dry, wrinkled skin, stiff joints, and increased susceptibility to illness. The bottom line is that we need to know what causes free radicals, and how to protect ourselves.

Antioxidants: The Defenders

The discovery of the effects of free radicals has been compared to the discovery of the germ 200 years ago by Louis Pasteur. Once the mechanism of the germ was understood, science was able to develop antibiotics to cure diseases like bubonic plague, pneumonia, and diphtheria. Antioxidants are to preventative medicine what antibiotics are to curative medicine. They have the ability to prevent a whole gamut of diseases that have perplexed science until only recently. (Time magazine, April 1992)

Antioxidants are molecular defenders that protect cells against free radical invasion. Some antioxidants are manufactured by the body, others acquired from the diet. The major antioxidants acquired from the diet include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene. In addition, minerals like selenium, zinc, and magnesium are needed to activate the antioxidants produced by the body.

Every day, new discoveries are being made about the antioxidant components of the foods we eat. Phytochemicals, the substances that give plants their color, have been found to be critical to antioxidant performance (Newsweek, April, 1994). The /Templates/health.dwt of grape seeds, leucoanthocyanin, has been found to be 10 times more effective than Vitamin E in preventing heart disease. This /Templates/health.dwt, present in red wine, is credited with protecting the French from heart disease, despite a very high-fat diet.

Our diet must provide the antioxidant compounds necessary to protect us from free radical damage. And it must provide enough of them to be effective. The alternative is to be doomed to a litany of diseases that reads like a medical school’s version of the FBI’s “10-Most Wanted” list.

Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD) lives up to its name. Rutger’s University estimated that 86% of the minerals we expect to find in the foods we eat are not there. Soil depletion accounts for a large part of the deficit. For example, the critical mineral selenium is missing from the soil in most metropolitan areas. In addition, the soil lacks the organic microorganisms that bind minerals so plants can acquire them. Commercial garlic has been shown to have very little sulfur compared to the organic variety—and sulfur is critical to garlic’s healing properties.

The storage and processing of our foods accounts for another huge loss in nutrient quality. For example, an orange loses 50% of its Vitamin C content every day. In three days, an orange only has 12% of its original Vitamin C. The remaining vitamins and enzymes that survive storage and processing frequently perish when foods are cooked.

The bottom line is that we Americans are at the same time the most overfed and most undernourished people on earth. It shows in our disease and mortality statistics. On some scales, we are at the bottom of all industrialized countries. That is probably a direct result of the fact that we are at the forefront of industrialization. We are leading the curve, and showing where industrialization can lead.

Looking to the Future

Free radicals are a necessary part of some bodily functions. For example, the immune system uses them to destroy enemy invaders. But our lifestyle produces enormous quantities of free radicals that we don’t need and can’t use. Our industrialized society produces many times more pollution, radiation, noise, and stress than our ancestors ever experienced. At the same time, our food quality is at lower levels than at any time in history. Small wonder, then, that we have such an enormous “Nutrition Gap” and the myriad “diseases of civilization” that are decimating our population.

Our hope for the immediate future lies in knowledge. Armed with an understanding of antioxidants and free radicals, we can defend ourselves with the right kinds of exercise, diet, and nutritional supplements to minimize our risk of crippling disease and help ensure a long and active life.

Our hope for the long term is to learn from this experience, to recognize what we are doing to ourselves, and make changes for the better. We need to develop a more humanistic style of living that subjects us to less of the pollution, radiation, noise, and stress of today’s lifestyle, and which at the same time puts us closer to wholesome organic fruits and vegetables. Only by closing the Nutrition Gap can we prevent the diseases that threaten ourselves and our society. Until we can make the long term changes that will allow us to protect ourselves naturally, supplementation is the only alternative.

Taking Charge of Your Health

For optimum health in America, you need to supplement your diet with the major macro-nutrients — Vitamin C, MSM, and Phytochemicals. The American lifestyle increases your requirements, while at the same time they are largely absent from the American diet.

Copyright © 2000-2017, TreeLight PenWorks

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